NEW YORK – The Northeast got a break Wednesday from the heat wave sizzling much of the nation, but elsewhere temperatures climbed back up through the 90s and topped 100 degrees in some cities by noon.
The soaring heat had been blamed for 12 deaths, from South Dakota, where a hiker collapsed, to Pennsylvania, where a man with cerebral palsy died after apparently being left in a sweltering van.
Readings were forecast to top 100 in Plains states such as Arkansas and Nebraska each day through the end of the week. Shortly after noon, the temperature in Oklahoma City was already 101 degrees and Stillwater hit 102, the National Weather Service said.
• Click here to see photos of Americans facing the heat.
"It is so terribly hot. It's just like an oven," said Kathryn Grooms of Grooms Sewer and Plumbing Service in Oklahoma City. "It takes two guys to do the job of one. They just can't perform."
"I've got one guy — of course he needed to lose the weight — but he's lost 60 pounds this summer," Grooms said.
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As people cranked up their air conditioners across Arkansas, the state's largest electric utility called for energy conservation Wednesday after a transformer failed. The Little Rock suburb of Benton, which operates its own power grid, scheduled "rolling blackouts" and opened shelters where people could try to keep cool.
Little Rock hit 99 by noon and the high was forecast at 103.
The hottest place in the nation Tuesday was Arizona, with highs of 113 at Glendale, Gila Bend and Mesa, plus nearby Needles, Calif., meteorologists said. The temperature peaked at 100 at New York's LaGuardia Airport.
"I was out shopping, but I couldn't take it any more," Jessica Blue, 54, said Tuesday as she stood barefoot in the fountain at Manhattan's Washington Square Park, her clothes and hat getting drenched. "Better cold water than sweat. I'm sick of sweating."
The Northeast and Great Lakes got a little relief Wednesday, with midday temperatures only in the upper 70s and low 80s, after a cold front squeezed south across the region.
The front arrived in the Northeast with a bang Tuesday afternoon as it set off heavy thunderstorms, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of utility customers.
At least 60,000 customers in New Jersey and about 365,000 in Pennsylvania lost power. In the New York City suburbs, 25,000 customers still had no power by midday Wednesday in Westchester County to the north and 19,000 were in the dark on Long Island, utility officials said. Connecticut Light & Power reported over 23,000 without power early Wednesday.
The same front had earlier caused storm damage in parts of Wisconsin and Michigan, where 75,000 customers were still blacked out Wednesday. Lightning killed a woman in a Detroit park Tuesday.
Before the storms arrived in the evening, the heat also was blamed for electrical problems on the East Coast.
An electrical cable failed at LaGuardia Airport, knocking out power to one terminal and part of a second terminal for several hours. American Airlines canceled 45 flights, and Delta canceled 11 flights.
Amtrak trains are required to travel at reduced speeds when hot weather makes tracks and electrical cables expand, and travelers between Washington and New York experienced delays of at least an hour Tuesday.
The heat that has stifled much of the nation since late last week has contributed to the deaths of at least 12 people, including three in the Chicago area, two in the Philadelphia area, two in Oklahoma City, two in Arkansas and one each in Indiana, South Dakota and Tennessee.
The case in South Dakota was a 52-year-old woman who died of apparent heat exhaustion and dehydration while hiking the 100-plus degrees of Badlands National Park, officials said Wednesday. Two hikers also died in the heat of the southern Utah desert, but the causes of death had not been determined Wednesday.