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Nation getting little relief from heat wave

It feels like 115 in Central Park, and it's been above 100 in Amarillo, Texas, for almost a month. Temperatures are expected to fall by the end of the weekend, but only into the 90s.

July 22, 2011|By Geraldine Baum and Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times
  • Jacqueline Bowen uses an umbrella to shield herself from the sun while handing out a local monthly paper in downtown Dallas.
Jacqueline Bowen uses an umbrella to shield herself from the sun while handing… (LARRY W. SMITH, European…)

Reporting from New York — Of course, New Yorkers get that the city can be unbearable when summer peaks. The defiant-chic pretend not to notice, and they stroll Fifth Avenue with ice cream cones and pack outdoor cafes on the waterfront till all hours of the night.

But not this week.

Ice cream melted faster than it could be eaten. And a faint fog surrounded St. Patrick's Cathedral as blasts of cold air from inside collided with hot air on the street.

On Friday, the temperature reached 103 degrees in Central Park, and with the humidity, weather experts say, it felt like 115.

New Yorkers were not the only oppressed. Up the East Coast, across the mid-Atlantic, and down to the tip of Texas, much of the nation has continued to bake for what is approaching a week. Twenty-nine states issued heat advisories Friday.

In parts of that affected area, temperatures were expected to fall back closer to normal Sunday, if you consider the low 90s normal.

But in places like Amarillo, Texas, this stretch of heat has been relentless and will continue. Amarillo has had a record 29 consecutive days of temperatures above 100.

"Not only do you have the heat," said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service, "but there's an exceptional humidity pushing temperatures above 100. That is very unhealthy and very deadly."

The only solution was to stay cooled indoors, and if they could, New Yorkers did.

Bryant Park, usually crowded at lunchtime, was nearly empty. The popular Brooklyn Heights esplanade was almost abandoned but for a shirtless guy sitting on a bench in the full-on sun, apparently tanning. Day campers and joggers, tourists and toddlers deserted their usual haunts.

A disastrous fire this week caused a Harlem sewage treatment plant to spew millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the rivers that run into New York Harbor.

But Ann Grimm, 21, hadn't heard the news and didn't notice.

The college student from Seattle, who is interning at Lucky magazine this summer, spent several hours of her day off Friday by the Hudson River at the end of 42nd Street. With her blonde hair pulled off her neck and pink T-shirt sleeves rolled above her shoulders, she read a novel on her Kindle under a tree rather than stay in her apartment with the air conditioner running.

"I'm trying to save money," Grimm said.

Did she notice an, uh, unusual stench from the river?

She sniffed and shook her head: "Nope. Isn't that the way it always smells in New York?"

Part of what has made this heat wave remarkable — other than the unusually broad swath of the country it has broiled — is that there has been no retreat even after nightfall. "So you have full sunshine during the daytime combined with the extra heating from the compressed sinking air at night, and it's literally a pressure cooker out there," Vaccaro said.

Officials have warned particularly the elderly and vulnerable not to exert themselves and to drink a lot of water.

Kate Betts, an author who lives with her family in Tribeca, said she was stunned to see paparazzi loitering outside the Greenwich Hotel early Friday. She said in an email, "At 8 a.m. it felt like noon … but the miserable heat and the stench from the human waste floating up the nearby Hudson River didn't seem to deter those relentless paparazzi who gather on the corner waiting for their prey. Brad Pitt? Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Who is it today? Who is worth waiting for in 110 degrees of hellish hot weather?"

So who were the paparazzi waiting for? Who cares?

On Capitol Hill down in Washington, government workers, on edge from both the heat and the heated budget talks, at least were able to trade in pumps for flip-flops and chug bottled water to keep steady.

One tour bus driver complained that this was even hotter than home, which happens to be Ethiopia.

Desta Temesgen, 27, sought refuge below a shady tree across from the Washington Monument, holding a Subway sandwich and a frosty bottle of water. He said it never got above 70 degrees in his home country.

Temesgen dreads 100-degree days because customers get cranky.

"They complain, they say they want a refund.... Sometimes they even try to slap me," Temesgen said.

Lionel Francois, who has been driving a bus in New York City for 19 years, said he was having the opposite experience.

Wearing a hat Friday fashioned of paper towels dipped in ice water, he greeted passengers as they staggered onto his crosstown bus.

"People always complain about everything," explained Francois, 56. "But today, they're so glad to get out of the sun and into the A/C, they're smiling at me."

geraldine.baum@latimes.com

tina.susman@latimes.com

Christine Mai-Duc in Washington contributed to this report.

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