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Some Savor and Others Choke on Taste of Summer in the East

Weather: Unseasonable heat sends ozone levels and power usage soaring. Several records are set.

April 18, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Summer-like heat shoved spring aside Wednesday across the Eastern United States, setting several records, including in New York, where power plant operators fearing blackouts urged large customers to conserve electricity.

The temperature reached 96 degrees in Manhattan's Central Park, eclipsing the previous record for the date of 91 in 1976, and tying the all-time record for April set the same year. At Newark International Airport in New Jersey, the temperature hit 97, breaking the month's record of 94, set in 1990.

The unseasonable temperatures stretched from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard, with record highs also in Concord, N.H., and Portland, Maine. The National Weather Service said a high-pressure system anchored off the East Coast brought warm air from the South to the New York metropolitan area.

The weather service issued a health advisory as ozone levels climbed, adding to the misery in New York. Increased levels can cause respiratory difficulties.

"I am trying to stay cool by jumping on the bus and standing in the back, where the air conditioning comes out," said Ray Garced, 28, a process server. "The best thing to do is drink water or stay in a cool bus."

"I would like to be in Brazil, right next to the ocean," added Carl Simmons, 48, a travel agent. "The New York beaches are too crowded for me. I am a Caribbean water person."

Standing in front of an office building, he held a cold soft drink in his hands. "I am putting it in the freezer when I get upstairs to make it even colder," Simmons said.

On a nearby side street, an attorney who declined to give his name opened the trunk of his car, which stood in the midday sun.

"I feel like I work in a bakery right now," he said. "Today would be a good day not to be working and [to be] in the Catskills under a shady tree."

Ice cream stores were crowded with customers seeking a respite, while dry cleaners were busy with people rushing to get their spring and summer clothes into shape.

"A lot of people are coming in. It is beautiful weather outside," said Jerry Guzman, 35, the manager of Sweet and Sour in midtown Manhattan. "It is much better than when it is cold. It is good for business."

Behind him, two clerks serving ice cream and frozen yogurt rang up a steady stream of sales.

The heat caught power system operators by surprise.

The owners of skyscrapers and large industrial facilities were asked by the New York Independent System Operator, which manages the power grid, to turn down thermostats as air conditioning systems drove power usage toward record levels.

A spokesman for the New York power pool said the unusual heat flared at a time when many generating plants were offline for maintenance to prepare for summer--when demand is predictably high.

The weather service predicted the summer preview would start to fade today, with temperatures in New York in the mid-80s. By Sunday, thermometers are expected to register in the 60s.

That friendly forecast was small consolation for Melissa Cohen, 27, a pharmaceutical company representative who rested briefly on a bench before continuing to carry two large sample cases to the offices of physicians.

Wearing slacks and a sleeveless tank top, she looked uncomfortable.

"I love springtime in New York, and this clearly is not springtime," she said. "This is ridiculous. It's disgusting. I'm supposed to be in a blazer, but it's too hot."

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