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New England tries to play it cool

Many flock to beaches, malls; cautions issued with forecast of more heat

By Peter Schworm and David Filipov
Globe Staff / July 6, 2010

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Nantasket Beach in Hull, where the water is cold even by New England standards, was as busy as anyone could remember. Movie theaters, in their air-conditioned glory, were sweet oases, no matter what was playing. With the sun beating down yesterday, even a trip to the climate-controlled mall seemed like a decent idea. The lawn wasn’t about to get mowed anyway.

More heat is on the way.

Today’s forecast calls for dangerous heat and humidity throughout much of the state, with the mercury expected to climb well into the mid-90s in Boston and near 100 in the suburbs. The heat index — a measure of how hot the air feels when factoring in relative humidity — could reach well beyond actual temperatures.

“It’s going to be rough,’’ said Eleanor Vallier-Talbot of the National Weather Service in Taunton. “People need to take it easy, and it will be best to be in an air-conditioned building.’’

The National Weather Service was expected to issue a heat advisory, urging people to limit their time in the heat and stay hydrated, while state environmental officials issued an air quality alert for elevated ozone levels in communities south of Boston.

Boston officials planned to open cooling centers across the city if the heat worsens, and have notified senior citizens that the temperatures could reach dangerous levels. Those who need assistance were urged to call the city’s hotline: 617-635-4500.

In the hot, dry weather, about a dozen brush fires have been reported during the past three days, including three yesterday. Most have been in isolated, wooded areas difficult for firefighters to reach.

“Things have dried up with the high heat and the lack of rain,’’ said State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan.

Meteorologists blamed the heat on a large high-pressure system drawing warm, muggy air from the south. While yesterday’s low humidity, coupled with a light sea breeze, helped take the edge off the heat, today will be stiflingly thick and sticky.

“It’s going to feel a lot worse than the past two days,’’ Vallier-Talbot said.

That was hard news for those who found yesterday plenty hot enough. With many people enjoying the day off work, throngs flocked to beaches, lakes, and pools. In Worcester, Bennett Field swimming pool was filled by noon, and Nantasket Beach drew massive crowds that rivaled any in recent memory.

Beating the heat required uncommon effort. Even ice cream — waiting outside for it at least — seemed like a chore.

“It’s too hot for us to be really busy,’’ said Elyse Venezia, assistant manager at Soc’s Ice Cream, a popular spot in Saugus. “Once it cools off a bit, we’ll have a line to the fence.’’

While it may provide little comfort to sweltering New Englanders, much of the eastern United States is facing similar conditions. Temperatures rose to the high 90s in New York City, and were expected to top 100 throughout the mid-Atlantic.

There have been at least seven days of 90-plus degree days in Boston this year, including June 28 and 29. Average temperatures in June were about two degrees above normal. Along the water, yesterday’s heat was cooled by a gusty sea breeze that brought intermittent relief, like an oscillating fan. But for some, only a dip in the water would do.

Waist-deep in Pleasure Bay, Paul McKenna and Christine Bialaski did arm-circle exercises together, looking like a two-person swim team in matching red, white, and blue bathing suits.

“We were downtown today and it was smoking hot,’’ said McKenna, 27.

From the cool comfort of the bay, they said that the hot summer was far superior to last year’s cool and rain. “That was awful,’’ said Bialaski, 26.

On Green Street in Jamaica Plain, Justin Humphreys, 31, danced under a fountain’s cool spray, with 1-year-old Henry in his arms. But Kathy Humphreys, 31, watched her family from a safe distance.

“It’s not hot enough for me to go in,’’ she said.

With the likelihood of even warmer weather, the Humphreys hold a trump card: They haven’t yet turned on their air conditioner. “We are eating lots of ice cream and keeping the shades drawn,’’ Kathy Humphreys said.

In South Boston, Alex Mukeiibi, 25, sought refuge with friends under a maple. Originally from Uganda, he finds the sun stronger here.

“I tell people it is hotter here than in Africa; they do not believe me,’’ he said.

Tomorrow’s weather might be unpleasant, but relief could be on the way for Greater Boston. Forecasters initially expected temperatures to remain scorching all week, but a rare low-pressure area developing in the North Atlantic could be enough to bring cooler air, starting tomorrow.

But residents in Central and Western Massachusetts should brace for more steamy weather.

“Inland, it’s still going to be hot,’’ Vallier-Talbot said.

John Guilfoil of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com; David Filipov at filipov@globe.com

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