NEW YORK — Temperatures climbed toward the high 90s Fahrenheit (high 30s Celsius) along the Eastern Seaboard on Wednesday as an unusually early hot spell heralded the official start of summer, with people wilting at graduation ceremonies, students trying to learn in suffocating classrooms and authorities warning folks to check on elderly neighbors.
The National Weather Service has forecast heat in the mid- to high 90s in cities including Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Health officials warned residents to drink water, stay out of the sun and in air conditioning, and to check on elderly neighbors and pets. Public cooling centers have been set up in dozens of cities for those without air conditioning.
Several relatives of high school graduates were treated for heat exhaustion at an outdoor ceremony in New Jersey, and taken to a hospital, police told The Record of Bergen County. Ambulances were on standby at the event, which was held outside to accommodate about 5,000 people, said Capt. Gerald Sanzari of the North Bergen Police Department.
Connie Vincent, a mail carrier, was already sweating as she began her rounds in a residential neighborhood in Manchester, Connecticut, Wednesday morning.
"There's nothing you can do," she said as she dabbed her face with wet washcloths. "Tomorrow's my day off, thank God. I've just got to make it through today."
In Washington, Deborah Otchere, 59, mapped out a tree-lined route to work and brought a change of clothes to her job as a secretary in a law firm. Among her traveling supplies was a partially frozen bottle of water.
"You live here long enough, you know how to prepare," she said.
"You're talking about almost 15 degrees above normal," said Kristin Kline, a weather service meteorologist in Mount Holly, New Jersey.
Normally, the high for Philadelphia is about 84 degrees Fahrenheit (28.9 Celsius). The city's highs in the next couple of days could break decades-old records of 98 degrees Fahrenheit (36.6 Celsius) set in 1931, and 99, set in 1923.
New York City is under a hot weather advisory. Temperatures are expected to hit 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34.4 Celsius) Wednesday and 98 on Thursday, about 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-6.6 Celsius) hotter than Tuesday.
The city's 1.1 million public school students are still in session for another week, and just 64 percent of classrooms are air-conditioned.
Students were being advised to wear light clothing and drink plenty of water, and schools have been told to limit outdoor playtime, city Education Department spokeswoman Marge Feinberg said.
In Brooklyn, street vendor James Martin said his family's sixth-floor apartment in Coney Island has no air conditioning and can get really hot. But "we open the front door and all the windows, and we get a nice breeze," he said.
Philadelphia began a staggered schedule of opening its swimming pools on Monday, a couple of days after schools let out for the year. Nearly two dozen of the city's 70 pools will be open by Wednesday, with another seven opening Thursday.
"We're very lucky that the pools opened yesterday," James Garrow, a spokesman for the Philadelphia health department, said Tuesday.
The city planned to work with personal care homes, senior centers, libraries and recreation centers to make sure air conditioners are running.
Moderate relief from the heat should come this weekend.