NEW YORK - The lights that decorate the city's East River bridges will remain off to save power as the city braces for potentially record-breaking heat - one of many conservation tactics across the country during soaring temperatures from the Midwest to the Northeast.
With heat and humidity expected to reach unsafe levels Tuesday, New York City residents braced for blistering temperatures and officials warned that inhaling the city's heavy summer air could become dangerously difficult.
The National Weather Service predicted that temperatures could break the record for the date, set in 1933 when it reached 100 degrees in Central Park.
"It's going to be very difficult to breathe. The air is going to be very thick," said Nancy Figueroa, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The young and the old should be very careful to stay in cool places, because it's very dangerous."
Restaurant worker James Freeson, dragging a box-laden cart up a sidewalk incline near Madison Square Garden early Tuesday, said he knows how to stay cool.
"I'm from the Caribbean; we learn to deal with that," said the 56-year-old Antigua native, now a Brooklyn resident.
His advice to fellow New Yorkers? "Drink water and stay calm."
Things weren't much better in other parts of the country.
The sort of heat that blistered California last week hung over the Midwest on Monday, endangering millions of people with outdoor jobs and prompting communities to throw air-conditioned buildings open to the public.
In Chicago, where the temperature Monday tied a record 99 for the date, a power failure late in the day in the city's South Side left up to 20,000 people without electricity.
With more hot weather in the offing for Tuesday, officials said some residents, chiefly the elderly, were taken to cooling buses and dormitories. It was not immediately clear if the outage was caused by the heat.
"It's a mess," said Lenora Stinson, 47, who was in an 11th floor apartment when the power went out. "It's a big mess. Everybody's panicking - they don't know where they're going." But Stinson said firefighters were doing a good job of getting old people out.
Temperatures across the Midwest and Plains approached or exceeded 100 degrees, and the heat index - a measure of temperature plus humidity - passed 110 degrees in spots.
The Midwest could get some relief by Wednesday, but the worst of the heat was expected to drift east on Tuesday, bringing scorching temperatures to New York, Washington and Boston.
In Cleveland, temperatures climbed so high by evening rush hour that the city closed a bridge over the Cuyahoga River because the heat was causing the steel to expand and the bridge's parts could not fit properly together.
In Illinois, the Cook County medical examiner's office reported two heat-related deaths in suburban Chicago on Monday. Both victims were men with heart disease. In the central part of the state, a 39-year-old man who was on medication died after falling asleep in his trailer.
In Oklahoma, authorities reported two more deaths that happened over the weekend. In Missouri, at least 14 deaths since July 12 are blamed on the heat after a 71-year-old woman died in St. Louis during the weekend, Brian Quinn, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said Monday.