CHICAGO -- Midwest residents woke yesterday to the whir of fans and air conditioners, the soundtrack to an unusually intense heat wave enveloping most of middle America and slowly spreading eastward.
From Texas to the Dakotas, and east to Illinois and Indiana, temperatures and humidity levels soared on Monday and were expected to remain high through at least the end of the week, by which time forecasters say the East Coast will get to share the misery.
Seventeen states issued heat watches, warnings or advisories Monday, when the heat index surpassed 100 degrees in many places, including 126 in Newton, Iowa, and 119 in Madison, Minn., and the National Weather Service said temperatures in New Jersey expected to be in the lower 90s could reach 100 degrees by the end of the week.
Cooling centers were set up in many cities to offer residents places to escape, and they were expected to remain open during the day until the heat abates.
Chicago opened six centers and encouraged residents to go to hundreds of public buildings, including libraries and police stations. Temperatures were not expected to drop below the mid- to upper 90s throughout the week. The city was also offering rides to cooling centers.
Chicago authorities stepped up their precautions after a 1995 heat wave killed more than 700 people in less than a week. Now temperatures above 90 degrees trigger an emergency plan that includes city workers calling and visiting the frail and elderly.
In East St. Louis, Ill., a mostly black city that's among the nation's poorest, Bernice Sykes, 79, spent Monday in a soup kitchen pressed into service as a makeshift cooling center.
In Ames, Iowa, where temperatures were expected to hit 95 degrees yesterday, the electricity service asked residents to cut back because of high demand, suggesting they turn off unused electrical devices, close drapes during the day and wash clothes in the early morning or evening, after peak usage hours.
In Wisconsin, where the heat index was expected to be in the 100s again, the Wisconsin Public Service Corp. said it didn't expect brownouts or blackouts despite the high usage, but it warned customers should expect to pay more on their next bills.