The East Coast broiled under an unforgiving sun Tuesday as record-toppling temperatures soared to 100 or higher in several cities, utility companies cranked out power to cool the sweating masses and the unlucky sought any oasis they could find.
The temperature hit 103 degrees in New York City and 102 in Philadelphia, breaking records for the day, both set in 1999. The temperature also soared past the century mark in Boston, Washington and Newark, N.J., and broke records in Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn.
After an extended Fourth of July weekend when temperatures inched into at least the 90s from Maine to Texas, The National Weather Service issued heat advisories until Wednesday night for much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, including an excessive heat warning for the Philadelphia area.
With people cranking up their air conditioning, energy officials predicted near-record demand for power.
"It will be a challenge," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, although utilities and regional electrical system operators cited ample generation capacity and expected no major blackouts. Just a smattering of power failures were reported.
Even so, those without air conditioning were left to cope as they could. On the baking streets of the Bronx, 14-year-old Miguel Pena and 13-year-old Vincent Quiles walked their bicycles up a steep hill, white handkerchiefs around their heads to keep the sweat out of their eyes.
"Man, this stinks," Miguel said. "We just got out of school and this is supposed to be when we have fun, but this is too much. We thought it would be cooler on the bike, but now we're going home. It's just too hot."
Added Vincent: "You can't breathe out here."
The hot air is "sitting over the top of us, and it's not really going to budge much for the next day or two," said Brian Korty, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, Md. After that, he said, a system coming in off the Atlantic Ocean would bring in cooler weather.
Authorities in some places Tuesday began calling the hot stretch a heat wave, a phenomenon defined by at least three consecutive days of temperatures of 90 or above. Newark handily beat that threshold Tuesday, hitting at least 100 for the third day in a row.
It was so hot that even machines had to slow down. Transportation officials cut the speed of commuter trains in suburban Washington when the tracks got too hot because extreme heat can cause welded rails to bend under pressure.
Workers at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, N.J., used tubs of ice cubes to help four sick or weak seals keep cool.
It wasn't much easier on animal lovers. In Massachusetts, Katie Wright was determined to follow through on her promise to take her children to a zoo.
"It's pretty ridiculous," Wright said as her 3-year-old son Jackson and 2-year-old daughter Emery watched owls and hawks at the Massachusetts Audubon's Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln. "But we wanted to get out, so we brought hats, sunscreen, extra water and then promised the kids lunch at an air-conditioned restaurant."
At his Manhattan newsstand, a steel kiosk that soaks up sun like a sponge, vendor Sam Doctor said the only way to keep cool was to splash his head with water, but he acknowledged that his system wouldn't last. Both of his soda-cooling refrigerators had already conked out by midmorning.
"When it's 100 degrees out there, it's 110 in here," he said, still smiling as he served customers.
In Philadelphia, where the temperature was in the 80s before 7 a.m., 45-year-old Davey Adams waited in a subway station that was stagnant even before the morning commute began in earnest. He had spent the weekend in air-conditioned bliss at his son's house in New Jersey but had to return to his job Tuesday as a forklift driver in a warehouse.
He said he planned to use "cold water and a washcloth" draped over his head to keep cool.
In New York, 13 firefighters were treated at a hospital after suffering dehydration and exhaustion while battling a blaze in Queens. The 42-year-old lieutenant governor of Massachusetts spent Monday night in a hospital after marching in five parades in 90-degree heat.
Deaths blamed on the heat included a 92-year-old Philadelphia woman whose body was found Monday and a homeless woman found lying next to a car Sunday in suburban Detroit.
In Washington, where the thermometer climbed to 100 degrees by mid-afternoon, President Barack Obama warned reporters about to leave the Oval Office: "Stay cool out there. Hydrate."
Even the queen of England, a familiar visitor to exotic and steamy places, may find summertime on the East Coast a grueling experience. The 84-year-old monarch landed in New York during the hottest part of the day on her visit to the city in more than three decades; she planned to address the United Nations and pay tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks
In downtown Philadelphia, pedestrians and drivers appeared to move a little more slowly in the heat, which combined high humidity with clear sunny skies that made sidewalks hot and asphalt sticky.
Robert McCarron, 44, wore a navy suit and tie as he walked four blocks from a downtown subway station to an office building where he was due for a job interview.
"If I was going to a job" instead of just an interview, he said, "you'd better believe I wouldn't be wearing a suit. This is rough, and it's only going to get hotter."