Americans dipped into the water, went to the movies and rode the subway just to be in air conditioning Saturday for relief from unrelenting heat that has killed 30 people across half the country.
The heat sent temperatures soaring in more than 20 states, many in the triple digits: 105 in Washington, 106 in St. Louis and 104 in Indianapolis, to name a few. More than 200 record highs were broken Friday throughout the Midwest and along the East Coast, including D.C. On Saturday, it appeared that more records were falling.
If people ventured outside to do anything, they did it early. But even then, the heat was stifling.
“It was baking on the 18th green,” said golfer Zeb Rogerson, who teed off at 6 a.m. at an Alexandria, Va., golf course but was sweltering by the end of his round.
At least 30 deaths were blamed on the heat, including 10 in Chicago, mostly among the elderly. Heat was also cited as a factor in deaths in Maryland, Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
Officials said the heat caused highways to buckle in Illinois and Wisconsin. In Maryland, investigators said heat likely caused rails to kink and led a green line Metro train to partially derail in Prince George’s County on Friday afternoon. No one was injured, and 55 passengers were safely evacuated.
Thousands of mid-Atlantic residents remained without power more than a week after deadly summer storms and extreme heat struck the area, including 120,000 in West Virginia and some 8,000 in the suburbs around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. In the Washington area, Pepco asked customers to conserve power, saying the heat was stressing the system.
“This is becoming a black swan of heat waves, in the sense that it’s such a long heat wave, such a severe heat wave and encompassing such a large area,” said Chris Vaccaro, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The prolonged heat has been the result of a high pressure system that has set up over the central and Eastern parts of the country, said Katie Garrett, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The system has been so strong that it has kept storm systems from moving in and has prevented cold fronts that usually provide relief from sweeping through. At the same time, moisture and heat from the Gulf of Mexico have been blowing into the Upper Midwest, Garrett said.
In the Midwest, some residents were drawing comparisons between the current heat wave and the severe heat and drought of the 1930s. More than 420 deaths were recorded during a 1936 heat wave in St. Louis, which also saw 153 heat-related fatalities during a 14-day period in 1980.
Around the region, corn and soybean crops shriveled from the heat and the lack of rain. In the hardest-hit and hottest areas, some farmers said they had already given up on their cornfields for the season. Others say much is riding on whether the heat subsides and rain arrives in the next few days, a crucial period for corn pollination.
Even as relief is expected to come by tonight in the form of lower temperatures, forecasters said there was still cause for concern. Severe thunderstorms are expected to blow through the Midwest and along the Eastern Seaboard today and into the early part of the week. This is a particularly unsettling proposition for the Washington area, which was hit by severe storms last weekend that left millions without power and where more fragile, temporary power systems are in place.