Brutal heat was pressing down on much of the United States this weekend, with more than 100 million Americans sweltering under heat advisories, warnings or watches, and temperatures in the Northeast soaring into the triple digits.
Officials up and down the Interstate 95 corridor urged residents to hydrate and watch for signs of heat-related illness as people flocked to pools and cooling centers for relief in cities stretching from Boston to D.C.
The National Weather Service said record highs were expected to be tied or broken in the Northeast on what it called a “Sultry Sunday.” High humidity was pushing heat indexes — the temperature that the air feels like — above 100 degrees, an about-face from the Northeast’s relatively temperate start to the summer.
“The ‘Dog Days of Summer,’” the Weather Prediction Center said, “are unquestionably here.”
The extreme heat, expected to continue through early this week, is another warning sign that climate change is increasingly imperiling what traditionally is a time associated with relaxing summer vacations. Temperatures are rising, wildfires are becoming more severe and droughts are becoming more common — a striking change from previous generations, scientists say.
Wildfires have burned thousands of acres in California in July. This weekend, fire authorities said thousands of people were evacuated while “explosive fire behavior” made it difficult for crews to suppress a blaze that had burned more than 14,000 acres near Yosemite National Park.
Former vice president Al Gore, a high-profile climate change activist, said Sunday on ABC News’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” that scientists have predicted such extraordinary weather events for decades.
“And the fact that they were dead right, maybe a little conservative even in their projections, should cause us to pay more careful attention to what they’re warning us about now,” he said. “They’re saying that if we don’t stop using our atmosphere as an open sewer, and if we don’t stop these heat-trapping emissions, things are going to get a lot worse.”
Asked by co-host Jonathan Karl whether President Biden should declare climate change a national emergency, Gore said, “Mother Nature has already declared it a global emergency.” He said he would leave it to others to weigh the pros and cons of such a presidential declaration, but he called for action, including limiting emissions and stopping drilling on public land.
In Europe, a heat wave has killed more than 1,000 people in Portugal and led Seville, Spain, to start naming the phenomenon like it would a hurricane. Seville’s mayor told Reuters in June that it would be the first “in the world” to take such a step. On Sunday, a news release from the Atlantic Council think tank said the city would see dangerous temperatures from “Heat Wave Zoe” until Tuesday. The Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center is advising the city on how to handle climate change and its effects.
Summer in America is becoming hotter, longer and more dangerous
In some U.S. cities, this weekend’s extreme heat caused major events to be altered over safety concerns. The Boston Triathlon, originally scheduled for Sunday, was postponed to late August “due to the current Heat Emergency.” New York’s triathlon and duathlon took place as planned Sunday, but organizers shortened the bicycling and running segments of the competition.
“The safety of our athletes and everyone in attendance is our top priority,” New York City Triathlon organizers said.
New York officials converted public spaces to cooling centers and offered spray caps for fire hydrants, which are meant to reduce the amount of water released if people open the hydrants to stay cool. The city’s National Weather Service station said the weekend would be the area’s “hottest weekend of the year so far” and warned that temperatures would climb into the 90s and could feel even higher.
The medical examiner’s office Saturday reported one death associated with the heat, according to the New York Times. If the city’s heat wave lasts through Monday, it would match a similar seven-day stretch in 2013, when heat indexes reached at least 95 degrees each day.
In Newark, the temperature reached 100 degrees Sunday for the fifth day in a row, the longest streak of temperatures at or above 100 degrees since records began in 1931, according to the NWS in New York. The 100-degree temperature was also a daily record high for the city, the Weather Service said.
Boston also reached 100 degrees on Sunday afternoon, surpassing a daily record high that was set in 1933 at 98 degrees, the Weather Service said. The last time the city had a day at or above 100 degrees was in June 2021.
Excessive heat can be dangerous, making it hard for the body to cool itself and potentially causing a rapid pulse, nausea or loss of consciousness. The unsafe temperatures are forcing people up and down the Atlantic coast to figure out how to protect themselves.
What extreme heat does to the human body
Susan Driscoll, 58, said she has been going on runs earlier than usual to avoid Boston’s heat. The photographer and personal trainer captured an image of the sunrise at Paul Revere Park on Saturday morning.
“Miles have been down and pace has been down” because of the heat, she said, adding that she is “listening to her body” this weekend.
“I didn’t have any races or anything on the agenda, thank goodness, because I might have gone out and walked it,” Driscoll said.
Philadelphia hit a high of 98 degrees on Sunday and was to be under an excessive heat warning through Monday evening. The fire department implored residents not to use fire hydrants to cool off; it warned that opening the hydrants could damage them and nearby property and people. It encouraged residents to find public pools and spray parks instead. The city also opened a “heatline” for residents to call for health and safety tips.
D.C. was preparing for temperatures to reach triple digits for the first time since 2016. In response, the city extended operating hours at public pools, opened cooling centers and expanded the number of beds in its homeless shelters to offer people a cool place to sleep.
The high for D.C. on Saturday was 93, according to the Capital Weather Gang. The city fell short of a record-high temperature on Sunday afternoon, but the heat index was near 105 degrees.
The heat wave is particularly challenging for some residents in the Northeast, where air conditioning is not as ubiquitous as in other parts of the country.
Lucia Santacruz of Brooklyn spent part of Saturday distributing food in a building that lacked air conditioning. Afterward, she said, she was exhausted.
“I ran home to the air conditioning,” said Santacruz, 24, “and then I fell asleep.”
Santacruz, who works on sustainability and affordable housing at a nonprofit, said the heat forced her organization to reschedule a Thursday tour of roof solar panels. Instead of getting to do the tour, she said, “I sent out some resources for people on how to stay cool.”
Lauren Kinsley said she has been working from her Manhattan home over the past few days to avoid the heat.
“I just have one air conditioner in my apartment — one window unit — but I’m trying to keep costs down,” said Kinsley, 32. “So it’s just been sweltering in my apartment basically this whole week, and right now I just went outside to get coffee. And I came back drenched.”
Kinsley said she is planning to go see “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” at a movie theater this weekend, in part because it means she will be in an air-conditioned space.
“But you have to brave the heat to get there,” she said.
Many cities will remain under heat advisories through Sunday night, and some into Monday with head indexes above 100 degrees. But the Northeast should begin to see more-moderate temperatures early this week, according to the Weather Prediction Center.
Praveena Somasundaram and Laura Reiley contributed to this report.