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The Nation

Little Shelter From Record Heat

The Northeast and Central Plains bake. In New York, residents get inventive to stay cool.

July 19, 2006|Ellen Barry | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — At midafternoon, when blast-furnace heat had settled over the streets of New York, people found small refuges and stayed there.

Danielle Freeman stood perfectly still in a 3-foot-wide ribbon of shade afforded by an awning; Michael Gray set down his folding chair on a corner of Canal Street that he swore got an occasional breeze from the Hudson River. And Leslie Boulden, who sells sunglasses from a stand on Park Avenue, made trips into the cool glass lobby of Citibank.

Dangerous heat settled over the Central Plains and Northeast for another day Tuesday, producing record high temperatures in New York and Connecticut, said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. An air mass that had California sweltering late last week was moving steadily to the east, he said, picking up moisture along the way.

In New York, the thermometer measured 99 degrees at LaGuardia Airport and 95 in Central Park; the heat index, which adds the effect of humidity, was 101 degrees. Storms today should bring relief, with temperatures expected to drop into the 80s.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Heat wave: An article in Wednesday's Section A said the "urban heat island" -- an effect created in large cities when heat is trapped and then released by concrete and asphalt -- could increase the temperature by 50 degrees. It should have said 10 degrees.

The heat caused a malfunction in a power feed to LaGuardia for most of the day, causing dozens of flights to be canceled. On Monday, 70 subway passengers were stranded for 2 1/2 hours on an elevated stretch of track because the heat caused the electrified third rail to expand and buckle, said Charles Seaton, a spokesman for New York City Transit.

Ed Schultz, who lives in an attic apartment in Brooklyn, left his house Tuesday with rivulets of sweat running down his neck. Schultz said the heat had kept him "almost immobilized" since Sunday. Schultz, 55, has no air-conditioning. But he makes do by dumping a bucket of water over himself -- once an hour -- and standing in front of a fan.

If the heat becomes intolerable, he pays the $2 for a ride on the subway, which is air-conditioned. The height of the summer, he said, is "pretty much suffering.... But air-conditioning costs money."

The structure of large cities exacerbates extreme heat by trapping radiation -- an effect known as the "urban heat island," said Johannes Feddema, a visiting scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Light is absorbed by dark surfaces like asphalt and concrete; when the city begins to cool in the evening, those surfaces release the heat they have absorbed, occasionally increasing the temperature by as much as 50 degrees.

In some cities, climatologists are experimenting with ways to reduce this effect, such as planting vegetation on rooftops or constructing buildings out of light-colored -- and therefore less heat-absorbent -- materials, Feddema said.

But in New York this week, people were simply compensating: In Chinatown, they carried umbrellas or newspapers over their heads. In Little Italy, listless waiters surveyed rows of tables lining the sidewalk, freshly laid but empty.

"A lot of people -- how to say -- they'd rather be home," said Petrit Kursani, 23, a waiter at Novella. As for himself, Kursani said, "I make myself believe that it's cold. I think of all the good things that are going to happen to me. For instance, tomorrow, I'm going to get paid."

The East Coast is the last part of the country to be enveloped by the mass of hot air that settled over the West and Midwest last week. The National Weather Service issued excessive-heat warnings for portions of 17 states Tuesday, down from 22 on Monday. Temperatures are expected to exceed 105 degrees through the end of the week in Oklahoma and Kansas.

Since Saturday, police in Chicago have made home visits to 787 individuals and contacted 16,934 people by phone, said Monique Bond, director of news affairs for the Chicago Police Department.

An 83-year-old Des Moines woman was found dead in her backyard Monday, the Associated Press reported. Another elderly woman was reported dead in a high-rise with no air-conditioning in Paducah, Ky. Officials in Maryland attributed three deaths to the heat, and two people in Oklahoma were found dead in their homes Monday and Tuesday. A 60-year-old woman was found dead in her home in Philadelphia, and a 3-year-old boy died after he locked himself in a car in South Bend, Ind.

The hot air has hovered over the Central and Southern Plains for five days, threatening crops and livestock. The heat -- more typical of August than July -- leaches moisture out of the grass, which in turn dehydrates cattle, said Stacy Hadrick, who works for the Meade County Cooperative Extension Service in Sturgis, S.D. Although breezes usually cool the fields at night, she said, "That hasn't been happening."

The nighttime heat proved deadly on one family ranch in Denton, Kan. Jerry Boos left his cattle in a pen Saturday night, then returned Sunday morning to find that 26 of them had died. Although he has lost cattle to heat before, it was "one or two, not like this," he said.

Boos is running water over the pens now but can't afford to provide shade over the whole enclosure.

"We shouldn't be seeing this weather until late July, August," he said. "All we can do is hope for some relief."

*

Times researchers Lynn Marshall in Seattle and John Beckham in Chicago contributed to this report.

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