Hottest trend this week - the heat

Record temperatures send people onto ice or into water.

Call it America fried. Or maybe parboiled.

Near triple-digit temperatures across much of the country are taxing utilities, raising the smog levels, and sending millions of people to any body of water they can find with as little clothing as possible.

In Philadelphia, where the temperature hovered in the upper 90s, the 76ers basketball team handed out fans to the elderly.

In Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Caleb Downs cooled down in a parking lot by lying on ice shaved off a hockey rink by a Zamboni.

In New York, lines formed early to get into the city's swimming pools, which stayed open an hour extra. "Had to get out of the heat," says Dillon Bruno, who made his first trip to a city pool in 28 years.

All these antics are being induced by record temperatures from Minneapolis (98 degrees F.) to Elmira (97) and even Atlanta (97). Meteorologists say it will probably be known as the hottest week of the summer. But by historic standards, it's probably been worse, says Ken Reeves, senior meteorologist at Accu-Weather in State College, Pa. "It's just that we had a coolish July, and it has made for an abrupt contrast."

The contrast couldn't be more jarringly clear than in Harlem, where Sondra Woods is hoping for some breeze on a street corner. She has no air conditioning, so her solution to the heat is to "stay in the shower till all my pores are open."

Next to her, Lahstarr Robertson has a wet cloth on her forehead. "You just have to drink lots of water, use wet rags, and not wear much clothes," she advises while wearing sports bra and biker shorts.

Ditto, says New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. At a press conference, he said, "Take as much of your clothes off as you're legally allowed to do. I emphasize the last part of that - legally allowed to do."

New Yorker Wendy Lau seems to have taken his advice. Dressed in a cotton black miniskirt and a tight, red tank, she says, "I thought about it before I left the house. I wanted to wear the least amount as possible." And then adds with a smile, "But I dress like this anyway."

This strip-down advice might be just as useful overseas. This summer is sizzling in Moscow, where young men are doing acrobatic flips in public fountains. In Tokyo - where everyone loves to comment about the weather - the most they can get out is, "Hot, isn't it?" Even in London, the temperature is in the 90s - making it tough duty for the beefeaters guarding the Tower of London.

For the elderly, and those without air conditioning, the temperatures can be dangerous. Last week, at least six deaths were attributed to the weather; more have occurred in the past few days.

To stave off the heat, everyone is cranking up air conditioners. So far, there have been only spotty electrical problems. But almost every utility in the country is experiencing record demand for kilowatts. "If a plant goes down, you could be in trouble," warns Jim Owen of the Edison Electric Institute in Washington.

But they may only have to keep turning out the extra volts for a few more days. Heather Zahr, a meteorologist with Accu-Weather, forecasts cooler air will move down from Canada by the weekend - where they've have also had record temperatures. "Next week should be normal with temperatures in the 80s for much of the country," she says.

If that happens, it will certainly be a relief to workers at the Frigidaire Freezer plant in St. Cloud, Minn. No, it's not that demand is skyrocketing for ice cubes - although it probably is. The heat has meant it's too hot for some shifts - reducing workers' paychecks. "We're not shutting the plant down. We're just taking it shift by shift," says a Frigidaire official. "You just have to have some feeling for the people."

It's not just sheet workers having their schedules change. The senior citizens of Tomah, Wis., will have to wait until it cools off to get back to their bingo games. And, some junior duffers in St. Paul's MGA Championship found their final round canceled.

In fact, sports all around the nation are being affected by the heat. Only last week, Minnesota Vikings lineman Korey Stringer died from heat stroke during a pre-season practice. Over the past two days, some of the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles have missed practice because of the heat. Now, many colleges are starting to limit their preseason work outs.

For some, however, the heat isn't all bad. In downtown Washington, one of the local Starbucks estimates it's selling an extra 30 to 40 more drinks per day. In New York, Juan Martinez barely has time to talk about his ice cream business. He's working 12 or 13 hours day, ecstatic over his high sales.

"It's tough to work out in the heat," he says, "but I sell more ice cream then."

Sara B. Miller contributed to this story.

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