WASHINGTON (AP) — The official start of summer is still two weeks away, but much of the nation is sweating through near-record temperatures, with heat advisories and warnings issued across the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and upper Midwest on Wednesday.
Get used to it: A new study from Stanford University offers the latest forecast that global climate change will lead to a permanent shift to unusually hot summers in the coming years.
The National Weather Service predicted temperatures nearing 100 degrees along parts of the East Coast and in the South, and forecasters said it would feel even hotter with high humidity. The ridge of high pressure that brought the heat will remain parked over the area through Thursday.
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.
The deaths of five elderly people in Tennessee, Maryland and Wisconsin have been attributed to high temperatures in recent days, and public schools in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey cut their school days short Wednesday to limit the amount of time students spent in buildings with no air conditioning.
In downtown Wilmington, Del., Fred McIntyre said the noon lunch hour business at his hot dog stand was slow, but he was hoping the flavored water ice he scoops out of orange plastic coolers would attract attention.
"Once they notice it, they start to come," said McIntyre, who was doing his best to stay cool himself, mopping his brow with a white shirt and circling his face with a battery-powered green plastic fan.
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 the center of excessive heat focused on Arizona and extending east along the Gulf Coast, but not north of Georgia. 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 scheduled to be published in the journal Climatic Change Letters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year more people in the United States die from extreme heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined.
At the National Zoo in Washington, visitors took breaks on benches in the shade and kids cooled off however they could.
"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, were taking precautions Wednesday, allowing recruits to adjust their uniforms to get cooler and spend time in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
"We're trying to stay out of the heat," said Christal Leung, 27, a drill sergeant from Beaufort, S.C.
At North Carolina's Fort Bragg, spokesman Ben Abel said one soldier remained hospitalized after suffering heat-related injuries during a 10-km run last week. Commanders in the 82nd Airborne Division were investigating the conditions surrounding the run, which was to have taken place at a pace of a mile every 8 1/2 minutes.
The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the Baltimore-Washington region and a higher-level excessive heat warning for Philadelphia, where similar temperatures are forecast. Heat advisories also were issued for parts of Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.
Air quality alerts also were issued across the region, including in New Jersey. Officials said ozone levels could cause problems for children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems. The state's Health Department said men ages 65 to 84 years of age are the largest group hospitalized for heat exposure each year.
In the District of Columbia, trash collection was to begin an hour earlier than normal because of the extremely hot weather forecast. City officials warned residents not to open fire hydrants to cool off because it reduces water pressure and hampers firefighting.
As the heat wave has pushed east, it has crushed previous record highs in St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn., where the mercury reached 102 degrees on Tuesday and finally melted a giant snow pile in a Sears parking lot.
Associated Press Writers Randolph E. Schmid and Jessica Gresko in Washington, Randall Chase in Wilmington, Del., and Susanne Schafer in Fort Jackson, S.C., contributed to this report.
Brett Zongker can be reached at http://twitter.com/DCArtBeat.