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Heat is still on: Third day in 100s expected for first time since 1947

Matt Remegi places water-soaked towel his neck while working parking lot U.S. Cellular Field Thursday July 5 2012 Chicago. |

Matt Remegi places a water-soaked towel on his neck while working at a parking lot at U.S. Cellular Field Thursday, July 5, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 7, 2012 6:24AM



The hottest July 5 Chicago has ever known buckled roads and sent children, adults and animals scurrying for the sanctuary of air conditioning.

It forced the closure of summer schools and the Shedd Aquarium, and was blamed for the loss of at least two lives.

But Thursday’s searing heat — the second 100-plus-degree day in a row, and the fifth hottest day ever recorded in Chicago — stopped just short of the all-time record of 105 degrees, thanks to a refreshing mid-afternoon thunderstorm that temporarily cooled the city. Though the mecury did briefly hit 105 at Northerly Island, the official measuring station at O’Hare topped out at 103 shortly before 2 p.m.

Now authorities and residents are bracing for what’s expected to be yet another scorcher Friday.

“It’s likely to be similar to what the city experienced Thursday,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Friedlein. “But a breeze coming off the lake in the afternoon should be just enough to stop us hitting the all-time record.”

If the weather service’s prediction of another 103-degree high proves correct, it will be only the third three-day heat wave of 100-degree weather since records began in the 19th century, and the first since 1947.

The all-time heat record, set on July 24, 1934, could again be under threat. That sweltering day sent the governors of nine states fleeing Chicago’s World Fair for the calming breezes of Mackinac Island, Mich., and was part of a hot spell that claimed the lives of hundreds of Chicagoans.

But authorities said Thursday that lessons learnt from the more recent, infamous 1995 heat wave that killed more than 500 appear to be paying off this time.

Though the medical examiner’s office said that autopsies performed Thursday showed that heat stress contributed to the deaths of North sider John McCullough, 48, and Maywood resident Eugene Burns, 56, a 95-year-old woman initially believed to have succumbed to the heat Tuesday may actually have died from other causes, sources said.

Just three patients with heat-related illnesses showed up at Stroger Hospital during a 24-hour period ending Thursday, said Dr. Robert Feldman, the disaster preparedness coordinator for the Cook County Heath and Hospitals system.

“People really are pretty well educated about the risks, thanks to the warnings the city and the media have been making,” Feldman said.

He said that he’d feared a higher toll but cautioned that the cumulative effect of successive 100-degree days could yet prove deadly in many cases.

Despite the city’s cooling centers and efforts including adding 10 extra ambulances, “People die everywhere around the world when it gets hot,” he said.

The heat was too much for roads that buckled in Algonquin, Schaumburg, Hillside, Harvey, Oak Brook and Arlington Heights, according to Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell.

As a precaution, Chicago Public Schools closed summer schools at 21 buildings without air-conditioning Thursday — a move it said it would extend to all summer schools Friday. CPS also canceled its summer sports camps Friday.

The Shedd Aquarium was forced into a similar position after it lost power at 1 p.m. in what appeared to be a heat-related outage.

ComEd said power had been restored to all customers by 11:30 p.m. About 300,000-plus customers lost their electricity in the wake of powerful storms that ripped through the Chicago area on Sunday.

ComEd warned that the heat wave will likely have one last sting in its tail, in the form of increased electricity bills.

ComEd spokeswoman Krissy Posey said there was an approximate 50-percent increase in electricity use on the Fourth of July, compared with electrical use during average July days.

The utility urged customers to set their thermostats at a constant level between 75 and 78 degrees and to augment their air conditioning with fans.

That’s a message unlikely to be heeded by Logan Square resident Jessica Weisbach, 33.

“I feel like I’m walking on the surface of the sun,” Weisbach said Thursday afternoon as she nursed a large bottle of water downtown.

“It’s so hot!”

Contributing: Sandra Guy, Matt McKinney and Stefano Esposito



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