A wave of record heat and sticky, humid air enveloped the eastern third of the nation Monday, wilting people who had to be outside and shifting air conditioners into electricity-sucking overdrive.
The air "feels like a warm, wet blanket," said Amanda Finley, 22, in Charlotte, N.C.
"We're taking numerous showers," said Iris Robinson of Newark, N.J., where the temperature hit a record 103 degrees. "I didn't really get any sleep last night. All you could do was just lay still and don't talk."
The National Weather Service posted heat advisories from the Mississippi Valley all the way to the East Coast, warning that the combination of humidity and high temperatures would create heat indexes of up to 110 and more. It was the third advisory day in a row for Chicago.
When the Reds and Astros played an afternoon baseball game in Cincinnati, a thermometer stuck in the artificial turf at Cinergy Field registered 154 degrees, highest in at least two years.
Temperature records started falling a few minutes after noon, with Portland, Maine, reaching 94. New York City rose to a record 101, Bridgeport, Conn., registered 100 for the first time and Philadelphia tied its record at 100. Raleigh-Durham, N.C., hit 100 -- but it wasn't a record there.
At the Flag Acres Zoo in Rensselaer County, N.Y., owner Harry VonHaggin fed his monkeys popsicles and made giant ones for bears by freezing fruit chunks and water in 5-gallon buckets.
"It's a luxury that they enjoy, and for the bears, it's a source of entertainment, too," VonHaggin said.
The mercury hit a record 102 at Washington's Reagan National Airport.
"It's hotter than at home. I expected it to be cooler here," said Douglas Napo, an exchange student from the African nation of Togo.
And just west of Washington, a heat index of 115 was forecast in West Virginia's eastern panhandle. "It's been 101 degrees in the shade on our porch thermometer," Angie Hott said before noon in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino declared a heat alert and urged the elderly to use community centers as "cooling sites." Philadelphia's heat hot line was swamped with phone calls, mostly from older residents without air conditioning or their concerned relatives. Hospitals around Michigan reported a small number of heat-related illnesses.
With air conditioners cranked up to full blast, many utilities asked customers to turn off unnecessary lights and appliances to conserve electricity.
The utility Conectiv, which serves parts of Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey, had scattered heat-related outages that blacked out several hundred customers, along with record demand that could force brownouts in some areas, said spokesman Vince Jacono.
Theria Williams of Columbus, Ohio, had a simple goal once she returned to her air-conditioned home after some necessary shopping: "Eating something else besides barbecue."
Easterners got a little sympathy in the Southwest, where the summer sun pushes desert temperatures above 100 daily.
"It may be 115 degrees here but it's more tolerable because of the lower humidity," former New Yorker Andrew Deschapelles said in Phoenix, where the forecast high was 108. "Ninety-five degrees in the summer in New York is the most miserable thing on Earth."
And there wasn't much sympathy at all from the Pacific Northwest, where Pendleton, Ore., cooled to a record low of 44 on Monday and Seattle hadn't warmed to 70 since the middle of June.