Last week’s heat wave that spread from the Great Plains and Midwest into the Northeast and New England has finally ended. But not before killing at least five people, buckling roads and knocking out a bridge.
For the record
For several days, widespread high temperatures ranged from the mid-90s to just over 100° in cities across dozens of states. Daily records that stood for 25 years or more were tied or broken over the weekend in cities such as New York, Atlantic City, and Bridgeport, Connecticut. Temperatures came only a few degrees from being broken in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Wilmington, Delaware.
The heat was no joke
Adding insult to injury was the dangerous humidity. Dew points were at least in the mid-70s, making the air feel incredibly muggy. The dew point is an excellent measure of how “sticky” the air feels. Generally, once dew points hit the 60s the air feels rather muggy; in the 70s it feels very uncomfortable/borderline oppressive; 80 or higher and it’s like being in a tropical rainforest. The combination of the humidity and the excessive heat makes it much harder for the human body to naturally keep itself cool when outside.
Unfortunately, two people died in Maryland last week, likely due to the heat wave. Health officials attributed the deaths of a Prince George’s County man and a Worcester County woman to the heat. The heat index in Baltimore reached 122° on Saturday evening.
Former New York Giants offensive lineman Mitch Petrus, age 32, died in Arkansas during the heatwave. According to a CBS report, Gerone Hobbs, the Pulaski County Coroner, said Petrus died Thursday night, July 18, at a North Little Rock hospital. He also stated Petrus had worked outside all day at his family shop and that his cause of death was listed as heat stroke.
At least two people died in Chicago because of the extreme temperatures, according to autopsy reports from the Cook County medical examiner’s office. The primary cause of death in both cases was coronary atherosclerosis, but “heat stress” was a contributing factor in both. The National Weather Service had issued an Excessive Heat Warning from July 18 through July 20. On July 19, the temperature in Chicago never dipped below 81 degrees, setting a record for the warmest low temperature for that date.
Several hundred people were evacuated from a northwest Philadelphia retirement community due to a partial power outage that may have been caused by the heat wave. Police told the Associated Press that the evacuation of about 250 people began around 1:00 p.m. on Friday, July 19, at The Pavilion apartments following the outage.
Residents were taken to a shelter set up at West Philadelphia High School, and work began on restoring electricity. Police also said that some people were taken to a hospital for evaluation. Fire officials told KYW-TV that all residents needed to leave because the electric company had to cut the building’s remaining power to restore power to the entire building. Crews used some power to restore one of the building’s three elevators to evacuate residents who hadn’t left already.
The heat across South Dakota was so intense last week that a portion of I-229 in Sioux Falls was reduced to one lane after the road buckled on Friday, July 19. The South Dakota Highway Patrol shared photos on Twitter, saying the damage was under the Western Avenue overpass. The road was repaired the same day.
In New Jersey, the Oceanic Bridge over the Navesink River was closed for about an hour Saturday evening, July 20, after it would not close. Monmouth County officials said heat caused expansion of the metal that encases the drawbridge. The bridge spans the Navesink River between Rumson and Middletown. Temperatures were between 95° and 100° that afternoon.
The bridge is a popular route for residents and beach lovers alike. The closure caused only brief traffic issues in the area, according to 511nj.org.
Not taking any chances
Two New York City events were canceled over the weekend after officials issued a heat emergency. One was the outdoor OZY Fest, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday in Central Park. Another was a Times Square commemoration of the 1969 moon landing.
Sunday’s New York City Triathlon was also scratched for the first time ever. At least the water and sports drinks that would have gone to the participants didn’t go to waste. Life Time, which has been producing the NYC Triathlon for the past seven years, donated more than 1,900 gallons of water and Gatorade Endurance to New Yorkers in need during the heatwave.
Excessive heat replaced by excessive rain
The Midwest cooled off by Sunday, and the Northeast is feeling the relief today. However, the cold front responsible for the break in the heat is producing severe storms and flash flooding from Virginia to New York state. This threat continues tonight, July 22, and includes portions of New England and the Tennessee Valley. Flooding may cause minor to moderate delays for drivers along the I-24, I-40, I-55, I-64, I-65, I-81 and I-95 corridors. This includes cities such as Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Charleston (West Virginia), Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. The National Weather Service has issued Flash Flood Watches for many of these areas through at least tomorrow morning (July 23).