Nation Swelters In Heat Wave

The cooling waters from a fire hydrant provide some relief to some children in St. Louis Monday, July 17, 2006. The high in St. Louis was expected to top 100 on Monday, with a heat index of 109 in downtown St. Louis. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)
AP Photo/James A. Finley
The heat wave that has gripped most of the United States and killed at least four people showed few signs of abating Tuesday and may persist until the weekend in some areas.

Cheryl Kennedy had just one word to describe the stagnant, sticky, downright dense heat that blanketed the downtown business district and most of the nation.

"Insanity. Insanity!" she said.

After a long sip of water, Kennedy added, "This is not fit for human beings. Without air conditioning, I don't think many of us could last like this for too long."

She and millions of Americans may have no choice, the heat wave that has gripped most of the nation showed few signs of abating and may persist for some regions until the weekend, CBS News meteorologist George Cullen says.

As CBS News correspondent Trish Regan reports, the heat is on from the streets of Philadelphia to the beaches of Los Angeles.

There have been reports of 120-degree heat in South Dakota, and it hasn't been that hot there since the Dust Bowl of 1936.

"For it to be 100 degrees on the East Coast and 100 degrees in Salt Lake City, the widespread heat is what makes this particular hot spell unusual," Penn State University meteorology professor Fred Gadomski told CBS News.

Scores of communities Monday reported temperatures of more than 100 degrees: Redding, Calif., about 160 miles north of Sacramento, reached 110 degrees; Grand Junction in western Colorado hit 101; Russell, Kan., hit 108; The National Weather Service had a report of 120 degrees just outside Usta in northwest South Dakota.

Blasting air conditioners sent power consumption surging. Records were set all over the country — Californians used 46,000 megawatts, the most ever, Regan reports.

Parts of the Midwest got a little relief Tuesday from a cool front squeezing down from Canada. The 8 a.m. temperature in Milwaukee was 65, compared 76 at the same time Monday.

The cooler air set off storms in Wisconsin and Michigan, with utilities in the two states reporting more than 300,000 customers black out. One woman was reported killed by lightning early Tuesday in Detroit.

The Northeast could get a break starting Tuesday night, with scattered showers and thunderstorms expected in parts of the region, but the heat was likely to persist in the southern Plains until Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Washington, D.C. declared a heat emergency Tuesday, allowing the city's
Department of Emergency Management to get involved. The heat plan
takes effect when the temperature goes over 95 degrees.

The heat killed a 76-year-old Oklahoma City man in a house where the air conditioner was broken, officials said Tuesday. Three other deaths in Oklahoma were suspected to be linked to the heat.

A 60-year-old woman was found dead of lung disease and heat stress in her Philadelphia home. In Arkansas, authorities blamed the heat for at least one death but did not release any details. On Saturday, a 3-year-old boy died in South Bend, Ind., after apparently locking himself inside a car in 90-degree heat.

The heat may have caused a New York subway train to lose power, stranding commuters for about 2 1/2 hours. About 70 people had to be evacuated. A transit spokesman said the power loss may have been caused when the "third rail," which powers the train, buckled.