WASHINGTON — Extreme heat steamed the eastern United States on Thursday, while in the Midwest, temperatures dropped by as much as 40 degrees and thunderstorms delayed flights at Chicago airports.
Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Washington, D.C., area could see 100-degree temperatures Thursday. While the temperature will not climb quite that high in New York City and northeastern New Jersey, the humidity will make it feel like it, with a heat index of up to 102 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Authorities blame the record-breaking heat wave for the deaths of five elderly people in Tennessee, Maryland and Wisconsin in recent days.
The heat was so intense in southwestern Michigan that it buckled pavement on an interstate, forcing the roadway to close for a few hours, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer.
Also in Michigan, a large section of downtown Detroit lost power after high demand for energy apparently caused the city's municipal power system to have a major failure. The outage Thursday forced the evacuation of the Coleman YoungMunicipal Center, the county courthouse, Cobo Center and some schools.
Schools across New Jersey closed after lunch Thursday due to the heat, sending parents scrambling to make last minute child care arrangements. A few districts, such as Montclair in Essex County, opted to stay open to accommodate working parents.
"I put Jess in shorts and a tank top and she was fine," said Leslie Kunkin of Montclair, whose 7-year-old daughter's classroom does not have air conditioning. Teachers opened windows, set up fans and plied children with water. "What kind of princesses are we raising these days they can't go to school in the heat?"
In Long Island, N.Y., a dozen children and one teacher from Riverside Elementary School were taken to a hospital after suffering from heat exhaustion, NBC News reported. The children were practicing for a spring concert inside the school's auditorium.
In Philadelphia and surrounding areas, a heat warning remained in effect, and those with respiratory ailments, the young and the elderly were warned that elevated ozone levels posed a threat, philly.com reported.
The National Weather Service issue a heat advisory for much of the region. New York City will see widespread haze, although thunderstorms could bring some relief in the evening.Video: Historically high temps hit Northeast (on this page)
A cold front was set to bring lower temperatures to some western and northern parts of the country, according to The Weather Channel, as the heat wave moved east. Meanwhile, severe thunderstorms and damaging hail and wind were possible later in western Pennsylvania and western New York.
Cooling centers opened Wednesday in Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., and Newark, N.J., as a refuge for those without air conditioning. Officials in Norfolk, Va., teamed up with nonprofit groups to deliver cold water and sunscreen to the homeless.
Others did what they could to stay cool.
"I'm staying in my house. I'm going to watch TV and have a cold beer," said 84-year-old Harvey Milliman of Manchester, N.J. "You got a better idea than that, I'd love to hear it."
Just getting started
And this heat was just getting started.
The 6-to-10-day outlook from the federal Climate Prediction Center calls for continued above-average readings centered on the mid-South, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and extending as far as the Great Lakes and New York and New Jersey.
And if scientists are right, we better get used to it. A new study from Stanford University predicts that global climate change will lead permanently to unusually hot summers by the middle of the century.
Youngsters sweltered in Hartford, Conn., where school would have ended for the summer by now if not for the heavy snows last winter that led to makeup days.
"I'm not even going to go outside this summer if it's going to be like this, unless my mom makes me," said seventh-grader Kemeshon Scott, putting the final touches on a social studies paper in a school with no air conditioning.
Temperatures in the 90s were recorded across much of the South, the East and the Midwest. Baltimore and Washington hit 99 degrees, breaking high-temperature records for the date that were set in 1999, according to the National Weather Service. The normal high for the date is about 82.
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Philadelphia hit 97 degrees, breaking a 2008 record of 95, and Atlantic City, N.J., tied a record of 98 set in 1999. Chicago reached 94 by midafternoon.
Forecasters said it felt even hotter because of the high humidity. The ridge of high pressure that brought the broiling weather is expected to remain parked over the region through Thursday.
In Oklahoma, where temperatures have reached 104 four times so far this month, the Salvation Army said more people are seeking help with high utility bills earlier in the season, and paramedics responded to more heat-related illnesses.
That is likely to continue in the coming month, with the hot weather extending west into New Mexico and Arizona. The three-month outlook shows excessive heat focused on Arizona and extending east along the Gulf Coast. Cooler-than-normal readings are forecast from Tennessee into the Great Lakes states.
At Stanford, Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Martin Scherer analyzed global climate computer models and concluded that by midcentury, large areas of the world could face unprecedented heat. They said the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest ones of the 1900s.Story: Hotter summers in a few decades, study warns
Global warming in recent years has been blamed on increasing concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The permanent shift to extreme heat would occur first in the tropics and reach North America, South America and Eurasia by 2060, the scientist report in a paper that will be published in the journal Climatic Change Letters.
Hard to stay cool
It's hard to stay cool at a ballpark but Reds and Cubs fans were trying at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, which had issued a heat emergency.
Kathryn Burke, of Pikeville, Ky., wore a straw hat, brought two bottles of frozen water, and a portable mister.
"And I brought the knowledge to leave when I've had enough of the heat," she said.
One Cubs fan wasn't so concerned.
"Sunblock, water, and shades, then enjoy the game," said Brad Daniels of his heat defenses. "Hey, it's baseball. We're here to see the boys of summer."PhotoBlog: View, discuss weather photos
Officials at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, the Army's largest training installation, let recruits adjust their uniforms to get cooler and spend time in the shade.
One soldier who had minor heat ailments earlier in the week had to wear a string of beads to display how many quarts of water he was drinking each day. Said Pvt. Ryan Kline, 24, of Windsor, Colo.: "I had lots of pain, fatigue, but I'm fine today as long as I stay hydrated."
Among those sweltering in the Newark, N.J., heat was Alejandra Perez, who was barbecuing chicken, ribs and shish-kebabs over an outdoor grill at Manny's BBQ Restaurant & Deli in the city's downtown. Newark reached 99 degrees, breaking a record of 97 set in 1999.
"I'm from El Salvador, and it's hot there, but the heat is much worse here," she said in Spanish.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.