July 8, 2012 – Unrelenting Heat Wave Bakes All In Its Path: An unrelenting and record-setting heat wave peaked this weekend, beating a broad swath of states into sweaty submission, with above-normal triple-digit temperatures stretching from St. Louis to Washington.
The searing heat withered crops in the fields, buckled roadways and caused at least two train derailments. At least 36 weather-related deaths have been reported since the temperatures first shot up 10 days ago.
“I’m avoiding the outside world,” Monica Fuhrman, 21, of Centreville, Va., said Saturday morning in Washington as she walked through DuPont Circle on her way to an indoor conference at Howard University. “I can’t handle heat like this. It’s too miserable.”
More than 200 record highs were broken on Friday throughout the Midwest and along the East Coast. And more records fell on Saturday. In Washington, the high was 105, which was a record for the day and 1 degree shy of the hottest temperature ever recorded there.
In St. Louis, the thermometer hit triple digits before 11 a.m., extending the city’s record streak of 100-degree days to 10 in a row.
The St. Louis medical examiner confirmed three heat-related deaths and said it was investigating six more. In Chicago, the authorities said the heat had claimed at least six lives as of Friday night. In Virginia, officials reported 10 heat-related deaths, and 10 people died in Maryland, health officials said.
Many of the deaths have been elderly people found in stuffy homes without air-conditioning.
Temperatures did not tell the entire story. Many places have felt several degrees hotter with the humidity factored in.
It was so hot on Saturday that even the regular haunts did not provide the type of relief from the sun that people have come to expect.
At Rock Creek Pool in Silver Spring, Md., a toddler touched the water and then quickly retreated.
“Mommy, the water is hot!” he yelled as he ran back under an umbrella.
Andrea Kelly and her son Beckett, 5, changed tacks and headed for an ice cream truck outside the pool.
“What do you say to the nice man?” Ms. Kelly asked her son as he grabbed hold of a red, white and blue Cyclone Popsicle.
“Thank you!” Beckett responded, wasting no time enjoying his treat.
Ms. Kelly, a member at the neighborhood pool, had brought a few other families with her.
“When you live in D.C., you have to have certain coping strategies,” she said. “Like ice in my hat today.”
In the front seat of the ice cream truck, Arafan Kaba, 47, used his T-shirt to wipe beads of sweat from his face. His truck had a freezer, but it did not have air-conditioning.
In the Midwest, some residents were drawing comparisons between the current heat wave and the severe heat and drought of the 1930s. More than 420 deaths were recorded during a 1936 heat wave in St. Louis, which also saw 153 heat-related fatalities during a 14-day period in 1980.
Around the region, corn and soybean crops shriveled from the heat and the lack of rain. In the hardest hit and hottest areas, some farmers said they had already given up on their cornfields for the season. Others say much is riding on whether the heat subsides and rain arrives in the next few days, a crucial period for corn pollination.
“There’s vast uncertainty,” said Bob Nielsen, a professor of agronomy at Purdue. “There aren’t many years, though, when I get this pessimistic.”
Meteorologists said the recent hot streak, though not unprecedented, was unusual because of how early in the summer it struck and its duration.
The prolonged heat has been the result of a high pressure system that has set up over the central and Eastern parts of the country, said Katie Garrett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The system has been so strong that it has kept storm systems from moving in and has prevented cold fronts that usually provide relief from sweeping through. At the same time, moisture and heat from the Gulf of Mexico have been blowing into the Upper Midwest, Ms. Garrett said.
Even as relief is expected to come by Sunday evening in the form of lower temperatures, forecasters said there was still cause for concern. Severe thunderstorms are expected to bowl through the Midwest and along the Eastern Seaboard on Sunday and into the early part of the week. This is a particularly unsettling proposition for the Washington area, which was hit by severe storms last weekend that left millions without power and where more fragile, temporary power systems are in place.
In some areas, the lingering effects of hot temperatures could still present health risks.
“It really needs to get down to the mid-70s at night before we can lower our level of concern,” said Pam Walker, the director of the St. Louis Department of Health.
Transit officials in Washington imposed a 35-mile-an-hour speed limit on all trains that travel above ground — 20 m.p.h. slower than they typically travel — after a train derailed on Friday afternoon because of a “heat kink,” when a metal track expands because of the heat. (Narrative – The New York Times, Pictures – Getty Images).
The Master of Disaster