WASHINGTON — The mercury climbed into the 90s across more than half the country Wednesday in an early-June blast of August-like heat, forcing schools with no air conditioning to let kids go home early and cities to open cooling centers. And scientists say we had better get used to it.
A new study from Stanford University says global climate change will lead permanently to unusually hot summers in the coming years.
Temperatures around 90 and higher were recorded across much of the South, the East and the Midwest. By 2 p.m., Washington had tied the record high for the date of 98 degrees, set in 1999, according to preliminary National Weather Service data. The normal high is about 82. Philadelphia was at 94, one degree shy of the record. Chicago reached 94 by midafternoon.
Highs in Maine were generally in the 80s on Wednesday. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection said Wednesday that elevated ozone concentrations were expected to created unhealthy air for sensitive groups Wednesday between Kittery and Georgetown, and the conditions were expected to spread up the coast Thursday, possibly as far east as Mount Desert Island or even to the Canadian border.
Officials encouraged people in the affected areas to reduce strenuous outdoor activities, close windows and circulate indoor air with a fan or air conditioner.
Forecasters nationally 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.
“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.”
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 Hartford school with no air conditioning.
Public schools in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey and Maryland cut their days short. But Baltimore students were disappointed to find a public pool closed when school let out early. The mayor later ordered the pools to open.
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.
The deaths of five elderly people in Tennessee, Maryland and Wisconsin have been blamed on the heat in recent days.
Cooling centers were opened in cities such as Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., and Newark, N.J., as a refuge for those without air conditioning. City officials in Norfolk, Va., teamed up with nonprofit groups to deliver cold water and sunscreen to the homeless.
And this could be just the beginning.
The six-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.
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 mid-century, large areas could face unprecedented heat. The effects are likely to be first felt in the tropics but will extend to parts of the United States, Europe and China, they report in a paper that will be published in the journal Climatic Change Letters.
Global warming in recent years has been blamed on increasing concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As that continues, the researchers said, “many areas of the globe are likely to permanently move” into a period of extreme heat over the next decades.
At the National Zoo in Washington, visitors took breaks on benches in the shade.
“Water!” shouted 8-year-old Amanda Squires when she spotted a misting station as she walked with her school group from Beaverdam, Va.
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.”
Associated Press Writers Jessica Gresko and Randolph E. Schmid in Washington, Stephanie Reitz in Hartford, Conn., Murray Evans in Oklahoma City, Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, N.J., and Susanne Schafer in Fort Jackson, S.C., contributed to this report.
Brett Zongker can be reached at http://twitter.com/DCArtBeat.