Americans sweltered, sweated and tried to beat the heat Thursday that has blanketed much of the nation from Louisiana to New York.
Temperatures in the Midwest and along the East Coast threatened to rewrite the record books as the killer heat wave entered its third day. But forecasters said showers were likely to bring relief to some places by the weekend.
In New York City, where the mercury in Central Park hit 83 degrees a few hours after sunrise, forecasters said temperatures could reach a record-setting 100 degrees Thursday. The average temperature there for June 9 is a pleasant 79.
"I'm staying in my house. I'm going to watch TV and have a cold beer," 84-year-old Harvey Milliman of Manchester, N.J., told The Associated Press. "You got a better idea than that, I'd love to hear it."
Authorities blamed the heat for deaths of five elderly people in Tennessee, Maryland and Wisconsin in recent days.
Forecasters said it felt even hotter because of the high humidity in many areas.
In the Northeast, the scorching heat was forecast to subside by Friday. The National Weather Service said a weather front moving in with cooler, drier air might bring rain and force down the brutal temperatures.
"We could get showers and thunderstorms this evening, which should start a cooling trend, with increased cloud cover also helping," Calvin Meadows, a meteorological technician at the National Weather Services Baltimore-Washington Forecast Office told NPR.
Even so, the 6-to-10-day outlook from the federal Climate Prediction Center still calls for continued above-average readings centered on the mid-South, including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and extending as far as the Great Lakes and New York and New Jersey.
Public schools in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey and Maryland have cut their days short because of the heat. Cooling centers have opened in Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., and Newark, N.J., as a refuge for those without air conditioning.
"A lot of people were complaining," said Stephanie Poff, 12, a sixth-grader at an elementary school about 70 miles north of Philadelphia that sent students home early Wednesday. "It is hard to study when it's hot out because all you're thinking about is, 'I wish I could be in air conditioning.' "
The hot weather was so intense in southwestern Michigan that it buckled pavement on an interstate, forcing the roadway to close for a few hours Wednesday, according to the Battle Creek Enquirer.
Philadelphia hit 97 degrees on Wednesday, breaking a 2008 record of 95, while Atlantic City, N.J., tied a record of 98 set in 1999. Chicago hit 94 by mid-afternoon, though highs were only in the 50s and 60s on Thursday as a weather front moved through.
Washington, D.C. was likely to see 99 degrees for a second-straight day. Baltimore and Washington both hit 99 degrees Wednesday, breaking high-temperature records for the date that were set in 1999, according to the National Weather Service. The normal high for the date is about 82.
In Oklahoma, where temperatures have reached 104 four times so far this month, the Salvation Army said more people are seeking help with high utility bills earlier in the season, and paramedics responded to more heat-related illnesses.
Inmates on death row at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester have not had air conditioning since Friday. Warden's assistant Terry Crenshaw said the prisoners were being offered ice and additional showers to help with the heat.
Much of Tennessee has broken or tied at least one daily high temperature so far this month. The mercury in the city of Manchester, Tenn., was expected to reach upward of 90 as an estimated 80,000 people waited in traffic to attend the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. In Nashville, the Country Music Association's annual music festival was set to kick off Thursday night, with some 60,000 fans expected to pile into a professional football stadium for the multiday event.
Alejandra Perez was among those sweltering in the heat in Newark, N.J., as she barbecued chicken, ribs and shish-kebabs over an outdoor grill at Manny's BBQ Restaurant & Deli. Newark reached 99 degrees Wednesday, breaking a record of 97 set in 1999.
"I'm from El Salvador, and it's hot there, but the heat is much worse here," she told the AP in Spanish.
If scientists are right, people had better get used to sweltering temperatures. A new study from Stanford University predicts that global climate change will lead permanently to unusually hot summers by the middle of the century.
Scientists Noah S. Diffenbaugh and Martin Scherer analyzed global climate computer models and concluded that by midcentury, large areas of the world could face unprecedented heat. They said the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest ones of the 1900s.
Global warming in recent years has been blamed on increasing concentrations of gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The permanent shift to extreme heat would occur first in the tropics and reach North America, South America and Eurasia by 2060, the scientist report in a paper that will be published in the journal Climatic Change Letters.
With reporting from Blake Farmer of member station WPLN in Nashville and Kurt Gwartney of member station KGOU in Oklahoma City, Okla. Material from The Associated Press was used in this story.