August 1, 2006

Eastern US swelters through heat wave

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Parts of the eastern United States
began sweltering through a forecast three-day heat wave on
Tuesday with the mercury topping 100 F (38 C) in some areas and
New York City electricity demand setting a new record.

The heat wave moved across the country from California,
which suffered more than two weeks of triple-digit temperatures
that killed at least 136 people and caused power failures.

Temperatures hit or hovered near 100 degrees Fahrenheit in
New York, Philadelphia and Washington, with hotter weather
forecast for Wednesday. Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago were
sweating it out in equally stifling temperatures.

"It is miserably hot outside and hard on everyone," New
York Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters. "This is a very
dangerous heatwave. It's really more than just uncomfortable,
it can seriously threaten your lives."

The National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings
and said the heat index -- how hot it feels when the humidity
is combined with the air temperature -- was due to hit 115 F
(46 C) in New York on Wednesday.

"If people do not take precautions, we could be looking at
a significant number of fatalities," said Gary Conte, the
weather service's warning coordinator meteorologist, adding
that New York City had not suffered such a string of high
temperatures since July 1999.

"The forecasted temperatures and heat indices (in 1999)
were pretty close to what we're looking at now. The impact from
that event resulted in 43 deaths in New York City and New
Jersey with rolling blackouts, buckled roads and so forth."


The National Weather Service said more than 50 temperature
records had been set in the central and western United States
in the past two weeks.

"The persistence of the unusually hot temperatures has made
the past month one of the warmest since records began in 1895
for the contiguous U.S.," it said.

Meteorologists are analyzing data to determine if July 2006
has surpassed July 1936 to become the hottest on record.

New York City has opened hundreds of air-conditioned
"cooling centers" and extended hours at public swimming pools,
while urging the public not to open fire hydrants.

"It's too hot. It's hard to work, but we have to suffer to
make a living," said Tajdar Sayed, who has been selling fruit
from a street stand near New York's Times Square for 15 years.

Electricity grid operators did not expect to have to impose
rolling blackouts, aimed at preventing uncontrolled outages,
due to any lack of generating capacity.

However, in some regions, power distribution cables could
fail, like those that recently left 25,000 Con Edison customers
in New York without power for up to a week.

ConEd said late on Tuesday it had set a new record for peak
electricity usage, reaching 13,103 megawatts at 5 p.m., which
topped the previous record of 13,059 MW set on July 27, 2005.

In 2003, the worst blackout in North American history left
up to 50 million people in Ontario, Canada, and eight U.S.
states in the dark.

Commonwealth Edison reported about 10,000 scattered outages
on Tuesday across its Illinois territory, including 2,700
customers on the south side of Chicago, who lost power Monday
when an underground cable failed, spokesman Tom Stevens said.

In El Paso, Texas, heavy rains temporarily broke the
region's drought and turned streets into raging rivers that
uprooted trees and carried away cars.

(Additional reporting by Torrye Jones and Scott DiSavino in
New York, Scott Malone and Svea Herbst in Boston, Eileen
O'Grady and Jeff Franks in Houston)