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Scorching Heat Bakes the Big Apple

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Forecasters say it could hit 99 degrees in the city on Wednesday, with humidity that could make it feel like triple digits. The temperature in Central Park reached a record high of 103 degrees on Tuesday. The National Weather Service's heat advisory is in effect until at least 7 p.m. today.

The weather may not seem like a big deal from inside a frosty air conditioned room, but New York City officials are warning residents to take the heat seriously. City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley says that frail or elderly people are especially vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, as are people with chronic diseases or who take medications that make them sensitive to heat.

"The heat is dangerous, if not fatal," Farley told WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. Farley adds that anyone can get a heat stroke. He ticks off the symptoms: "People just feeling weak, feeling dizzy, people not necessarily sweating. You would ordinarily sweat when you're hot. If you're not sweating that may be a sign that you're dehydrated."

Farley and other officials are urging New Yorkers to drink plenty of water, ventilate rooms with air conditioners or fans, and avoid midday heat. Those who don't have air conditioning should seek out a place where it's cool, like one of the city's nearly 500 cooling centers, a city pool or one of New York's beaches. Residents can find by calling 311, or by going to

Temperatures are not the only things hitting record highs this week. New Yorkers' electricity usage is inching close to setting a record.

The New York Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages the state's power grid, says on Tuesday afternoon it surpassed last year's peak usage as well as its forecasted peak usage of 33,025 megawatts for this summer. The ISO hit a peak of 33,452 megawatts this afternoon between 4 and 5 o'clock.

The utility is offering incentives for businesses in the city that reduce their usage by operating fewer elevators or reducing air conditioning temperatures.

Con Edison says energy consumption on Tuesday did not break records, but the longer the heat wave lasts, the more usage will spike. As of Tuesday afternoon, customers had used some 12,782 megawatts of power, a number that's not far from the record 13,141 megawatts set in August 2006. The utility is currently reporting about 6,500 outages scattered throughout the city. Crews are working 12-hour shifts due to the increased demand; service disruptions can be reported by calling 1-800-75-CON-ED.

On Wednesday, the utility company reported outages in parts of Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn that began last night.  It says full power has been restored to eight neighborhoods in and around downtown Brooklyn, after the utility reduced the voltage there early this morning because of cable problems.

City officials are urging New Yorkers to resist the urge to open up fire hydrants without a city-approved spray cap, saying it wastes water and depletes the pressure in water lines used to fight fires.  The city's Department of Environmental Protection says it shut off 14-hundred illegally-opened hydrants yesterday. 

Businesses can also do their part in conserving energy during this week's heat wave. "If there's a merchant with a door open and they're blowing air conditioning out the door, that's really...a sin against the environment," says Con Edison spokesman Bob McGee.

Residential customers are being advised to shut off their air conditioning when they're not at home, and unplug electronic devices when possible to help prevent outages. "Conserving is good for the environment, it's good for your wallet, it reduces your carbon footprint," McGee says. "And it helps us run things more smoothly. Especially at a time like this."

Meanwhile, Amtrak says it is prepared to take care of passengers if trains break down and lose air conditioning on Tuesday and Wednesday. Amtrak is storing extra water on trains and rescue locomotives positioned every 30 to 50 miles along its track corridor. Mechanical technicians are riding trains to troubleshoot problems and restart locomotives. The train operator put similar plans in place for a commuter rail service it operates in Maryland after hundreds of passengers were stranded on a hot train last month.