Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Richard Perry/The New York Times
With one final, fitting blast of 96-degree heat on Tuesday, the summer of 2010 went down in the National Weather Service’s record books as the hottest ever in New York City.
Hotter than the previous high of 77.3 degrees set in 1966, when more than 1,100 deaths were attributed to heat that repeatedly exceeded 100 degrees. Hotter than 2006, when a heat wave set off a blackout in northern Queens that left more than 100,000 residents without power for days.
But in this record-breaking season — defined by the Weather Service as June through August — there was no cataclysm, no singular event that was likely to define a three-month period when the temperature averaged 77.8 degrees. Instead, the summer of 2010 might be more properly measured in more subtle ways.
For Sal Medina, a newsstand operator from the Bronx, it could be measured by the number of frozen water bottles that he slipped into his pants this week to stay cool (three).
For John Natuzzi, it could be all the ice cubes used during the first day of the United States Open tennis tournament on Monday (80,000 pounds).
For lifeguards, it could be the number of total visitors to the city’s beaches (17.2 million).
For executives at Consolidated Edison, it would surely be the number of 90-degree days the utility struggled through without any widespread disruptions of its power network (34).
Tally it all up and the sum of the last three months is a rarely interrupted stretch of hot days that forced New Yorkers to keep cool in ways both traditional and creative.
Mr. Medina, 56, who lives in Pelham Bay, could barely stand to be inside his metal-jacketed newsstand at Clinton and Delancey Streets on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. To cool off, he devised a system using frozen pint-sized bottles of Poland Spring water.
He would tuck three inside the waistband of his pants. A fourth he would sling in a plastic bag whose handles he would knot just under his chin, holding the icy cylinder against the back of his neck.
Even with that gear, Mr. Medina said he had quit early a few days this summer, heading home at 3 p.m. on the hottest days, instead of the usual 6. The heat, he said, “affects your whole nervous system, makes you grouchy; it makes you so you can’t stand your customers.”
At Natuzzi Brothers Ice Company in Queens, the phones ring nonstop once the temperature hits 90, Mr. Natuzzi said. This summer, he said, his company has been supplying dry ice to ice-cream stores to keep their products frozen, a request he said he rarely got last summer.
The shortage of orders during the cool early months of last summer led to significant losses, Mr. Natuzzi said, but this summer has been a different story. The company, whose warehouse holds 40 tons of ice, sold out its supply during the heat wave that started on the July 4 weekend. It has been running its delivery trucks up to 15 hours a day since then.
“It’s been quite a ride this summer,” Mr. Natuzzi said.
Exhausted as he is, it is not quite over. His company supplies ice to the food-service operations at the United States Open, which runs for two weeks. On the first day, the Open used about 20,000 pounds more than usual, he said. “I’ll look back and say that this is one summer I’ll never forget,” Mr. Natuzzi said.
At Con Edison, the summer of 2010 will be memorable for what did and did not happen. In the past three months, the utility’s customers drew more power off its grid than during any previous three-month period, according to data compiled by the company. But through successive heat waves, the electric distribution system held up, with only occasional localized disruptions.
“For two days we suffered,” said Theo Trilivas, 65, a retired plumber who lost power in his home in Astoria, Queens, in July. “No power. No cooking. No A.C. No lights. Nothing. We had to throw out everything in the freezer.”
The growing demand for power from residential customers has been one of the bigger surprises to Con Ed officials this summer. Of the company’s 36 distribution networks, 14 — all in residential areas — exceeded the forecast for peak demand, said John F. Miksad, a senior vice president who oversees the company’s electric operations. Reflecting the weak state of the economy, power usage by commercial customers declined this summer, he said.
The increased use of air-conditioning has been one constant of life in the metropolitan region. According to Con Ed’s estimates, 6.6 million air-conditioners are in use in its service area, and that number is rising by at least 170,000 a year.
Sam Sharma and his wife tried placing buckets of ice cubes on window sills and in front of fans in their apartment on the second floor of a house in Woodside, Queens. But eventually they broke down and did what so many other New Yorkers have done: they bought an air-conditioner.
“We have it in the living room and only run it when it is extreme heat, and then only for a few hours,” said Mr. Sharma, an immigrant from Nepal who works as a parking lot attendant. “Maybe we used it 10 days this whole summer. It’s expensive.”
In search of relief, some people actually sought out the city. On Monday, Sharon Fredman, 38, a Web consultant from Tenafly, N.J., had run out of suburban options to entertain her daughter, Margot, 8, and keep her cool at the same time. So she drove in for the day to let Margot splash around in a sprinkler in Tompkins Square Park. “When it’s 90 degrees,” Ms. Fredman said, “it’s equally hot everywhere.”
When New Yorkers sought to escape the heat indoors, they flocked to the beaches, particularly Coney Island. According to the city’s parks department, total attendance at Coney Island’s beach slightly exceeded 12.8 million people, more than triple the total from 2009.
“There were tremendous increases at all the beaches,” said Adrian Benepe, the parks commissioner. “The beaches were our natural air-conditioners.”
Many of those beachgoers were repeat visitors, like Stephen Fybish, who said he went to Coney Island or neighboring Brighton Beach to swim in the ocean 11 times this summer. He said that he found the sand to be crowded some days but that he always had ample room to swim.
A weather historian who has kept detailed records on temperatures in the city for many years, Mr. Fybish was already looking ahead to September and calculating what sort of weather it would take to extend the hottest-ever distinction. By his reckoning, the average temperature for the month has to be higher than 71 degrees for New York to have its hottest June-through-September period on record.