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Heat bakes East

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | August 14, 2002

"We’re watching the mega-wattage go up."

—Dennis Machalski

“We’re watching the mega-wattage go up,” said Dennis Machalski Wednesday as New York sweltered along with many other eastern states.

At New York’s state Office of Emergency Management, Machalski and other disaster responders were closely monitoring power usage while local officials were opening cooling centers and giving people tips on coping with the heat.

Many states kicked their heat response plans into action as ozone advisories, heat advisories, and temperatures hovering around 100 degrees blanketed areas stretching from Maine to South Carolina.

New York’s Central Park registered a 98-degree day Tuesday, breaking a record of 96 degrees for the same day in 1988.

Tuesday was the hottest day of the summer in several states, and Wednesday was expected to be a close second. Heat indexes – a measure of what it feels like outside – shot up to 103. In metro areas, the extreme heat was causing manhole covers to pop off. On Ninth Ave. in New York City Tuesday, the heat caused an underground fire that sparked an explosion and blew a manhole cover high into the air, frightening witnesses.

As a Bermuda high-pressure system pumped hot and humid air into the region, many states were experiencing the hottest overall summer since 1995. In New York City, this summer could rank among the 15 hottest since the National Weather Service started keeping track in 1870.

There were no major power outages in New York City or Washington, D.C. Tuesday or by Wednesday afternoon.

“The city of New York has a program for dealing with the extreme heat,” said Joann Hale, a disaster response and recovery liaison for Church World Service’s emergency response program. Local churches, schools, senior centers and other community facilities open their doors to offer people a chance to get cool.

The New York state Office of Emergency Management also works with the state Department of Aging to ensure the needs of elderly people are met.

Meanwhile local responders watched for signs of a power outage. Volunteer amateur radio operators were on standby to offer their services should a blackout occur, said Jennifer Hagy of the American Radio Relay League, Inc.

“If there was a loss of electricity, amateur radio operators could help by relaying information about shelters,” said Hagy.

“We’re there to provide backup communication,” added George Tranos, a radio operator in the Long Island area.

The heat wave should ease sometime Thursday, forecasters said, with temperatures in the comparatively cooler low 90s. But a deepening mid-Atlantic drought is concerning many farmers and water conservation officials.

The three Catskill Mountains reservoirs that supply New York City held 190.1 billion gallons Tuesday — 14.8 billion fewer than this time last year, and 14 percent below the norm.

Heat has also posed problems in western states this summer, causing a devastating fire season in several states. In Arizona, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allocated $2 million to help low-income families pay their electric bills. Temperatures in that state were eight percent higher than average this summer.

In Utah, heat and lack of precipitation have left the Great Salt Lake at its lowest level since 1980, according to the Utah Geological Survey. The lake was at 4,198 feet above sea level Tuesday. Geologists have predicted the lake will bottom out around Dec. 1 at 4,197 feet. The last time it lowered that much was in 1972.

The New York City Office of Emergency Management urged people to prevent blackouts by conserving electricity the following ways:

-- Turn off all non-essential appliances and electronic equipment.

-- Do not leave air conditioners on when you leave your house

-- Set your air conditioner thermostat at no less than 78 degrees

-- Only use appliances that have heavy electrical loads early in the morning or very late at night

The city office also offered personal health and safety tips to help people protect themselves against the effects of heat:

-- Stay out of the sun -- avoid extreme temperature changes.

-- Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors reflect some of the sun's energy.

-- Drink fluids—particularly water—even if you do not feel thirsty. Your body needs water to keep cool. (Those on fluid-restricted diets or taking diuretics should first consult their physician.)

-- Avoid beverages containing alcohol and/or caffeine.

-- Eat small, frequent meals.

-- Avoid strenuous activity, especially during the sun's peak hours—11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

-- If possible, go to an air-conditioned building for several hours during the hottest parts of the day. Participate in activities that will keep you cool, such as going to the movies, shopping at a mall or swimming at a pool or beach.

-- Never leave your children or pets unattended in the car.

-- Check on your elderly neighbors, and those with special needs.

-- Remember: Improperly opened hydrants waste thousands gallons of water, and can lower water pressure to dangerous levels, hampering the fire department’s ability to fight fires and endangering the lives of your family and neighbors. If you want to use a hydrant to cool off, obtain a spray cap at your local firehouse.

-- Do not call 9-1-1 except in case of an emergency.

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