Heat wave blankets eastern US

Posted June 8, 2011 1:32 p.m. EDT
Updated June 8, 2011 6:09 p.m. EDT

— Summer is still two weeks away, but much of the nation is sweating through near-record temperatures, with the deaths of four elderly people in Tennessee and Maryland attributed to the heat wave.

Thermometers will soar close to 100 degrees in parts of the East Coast and the South. Forecasters said it will feel even hotter with high humidity. A ridge of high pressure has brought the heat and will be parked over the area through Thursday.

The high hit 97 degrees in the Triangle on Wednesdayy, and a Code Orange air quality alert warns that sensitive groups, including children, the elderly and people with respiratory illnesses, should limit strenuous activities outdoors.

It's the twelfth day this year that temperatures have hit the 90-degree mark, nearing the record of 13 days by this time in 1953, said WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel.

"We may be in for a very long, hot summer," Fishel said.

In the nation's capital, National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Peloquin said Wednesday's high was predicted to be close to the record 98 degrees set in 1999. The normal high temperature this time of year is about 82.

At the National Zoo, 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.

Her dad, Allen Squires, told her not to get soaking wet. Squires said he and his daughter tried looking at the zoo's cheetah exhibit, but the animals appeared to be hiding from the heat.

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 8½ minutes.

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. "The heat won't stop them from training. ... We're just making small adjustments."

The heat wave 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.

Public schools in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey cut their school days short to limit the amount of time students spent in buildings with no air conditioning. Trash collection in D.C. started an hour earlier, and residents were asked not to open fire hydrants to cool off because it reduces water pressure and hampers firefighting.

Some relief in sight

Some relief appears to be on the horizon for the Triangle – by Saturday, the high will dip to 90 degrees, and there'll be a 50 percent chance of rain on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The mercury could even dip below the 90-degree mark at the start of the next work week.

"We're going to be flirting with the 90-degree mark a few days this weekend and into next week," Fishel said.

The normal highs in North Carolina this time of year are in the mid 80s.