Business

RDU hits record-breaking 102 degrees

Posted July 7, 2010 3:05 a.m. EDT
Updated July 8, 2010 6:52 a.m. EDT

— The temperature at Raleigh-Durham International Airport hit 102 degrees Wednesday, beating the existing July 7 record of 100 degrees. The highest temperature ever recorded at RDU was 105 degrees.

Also hitting 102 degrees on Wednesday afternoon were Rocky Mount and Fayetteville. Goldsboro saw temperatures at 101.

The heat also left more than 1,400 people without power along the Johnston-Wake County line on Wednesday night. Progress Energy said hot weather caused an equipment malfunction in the area.

While the temperatures will drop in the coming days, the humidity levels will rise.

"Heat this intense you really have to sit up and take notice of," WRAL meteorologist Elizabeth Gardner said. "Today's likely to be the hottest day of our heat wave."

Air quality is also a concern. A Code Orange alert for 41 counties means the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as active children and adults and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma. They should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The heat wave will abate somewhat as the week wears on. A low-pressure system will create chances for scattered showers and push high temperatures down into the low and mid 90s.

That change can't come too soon for the East Coast, which broiled Tuesday as the thermometer soared past 100 degrees from Richmond to Boston. Daily records were set in New York, where it hit 103, and in Philadelphia, where it reached 102.

Deaths blamed on the heat included a 92-year-old Philadelphia woman whose body was found Monday and a homeless woman found lying next to a car Sunday in suburban Detroit.

It's a heat wave even in the Northeast, where meteorologist define one as three consecutive days of temperatures of 90 or above. Newark, N.J., handily beat that threshold Tuesday, hitting 100 for the third day in a row.

"This is one of the hottest days in about a decade for many locations in the Northeast and even inland," National Weather Service spokesman Sean Potter said. "You'd go back to 2001 or maybe 1999 to find a similar heat wave."

In hot weather, cities and dense, built-up areas become so-called heat islands that are hotter than surrounding, less-developed areas. Scientists say that cities, with numerous building surfaces and paved roads and little vegetation, aren't designed to release heat well. Cities absorb more solar energy during the day and release it more slowly at night.

With people cranking up the air conditioning Tuesday, energy officials said there was tremendous demand for electricity, but the grid didn't buckle. Usage appeared to be falling just short of records set throughout the Northeast during a major heat wave in 2006.

It was so hot Tuesday that even machines had to slow down. Transportation officials cut the speed of commuter trains in suburban Washington, D.C., and New York when the tracks got too hot. Extreme heat can cause welded rails to bend under pressure.

Workers at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, N.J., used tubs of ice cubes to help four sick or weakened seals keep cool.

It wasn't much easier on animal lovers. In Massachusetts, Katie Wright was determined to follow through on her promise to take her children to a zoo.

"It's pretty ridiculous," Wright said as her 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter watched owls and hawks at the Audubon's Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln. "But we wanted to get out, so we brought hats, sunscreen, extra water, and then promised the kids lunch at an air-conditioned restaurant."

In Newark, people took advantage of pools and cooling centers. Cierra Christmas and Ayana Welch, both 11, cooled off in sprinklers at the Rotunda Recreation Center pool as part of a summer camp program.

"I would say, it seems like I'm in an oven, and it's on 360 (degrees), and I'm being baked like a cake," Cierra said.

Ayana laughed, adding, "360? I'm at 550!"