Heat wave creates drought threat in New Jersey

July 7, 2010 3:01:13 AM PDT
As a third consecutive day of oppressive heat hung over New Jersey on Tuesday, breaking high temperature records across the state, state climatologist David Robinson was looking ahead to what else could be in store in a year of extreme weather.

The state is on the verge of a drought, he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, state environmental officials acknowledged as much, asking residents to reduce nonessential uses of water, including cutting back or eliminating lawn watering. The conservation measures are voluntary.

"It's really something that's getting a little worrisome," Robinson said. "The reservoirs will start really falling, rivers will start falling. Soil moisture is really low."

He said some soaking rains could change that outlook. Some thunderstorms could roll in later in the week as the temperature drops a bit.

It got so hot Tuesday afternoon that two Cape May County drawbridges got stuck when the heat made their steel components expand.

The National Weather Service said it was the hottest July 6 on record at all three of its main New Jersey recording stations. It hit 104 in Newark, 100 in Atlantic City and 102 in Trenton, breaking records set in 1999 in each city.

It was the third day in a row of 100 degree temperatures in Newark. The last time it was so hot there for three days in a row came in the first three days of August 2006. The streak could hit four days on Wednesday.

The only buzz in normally crowded streets was from air conditioners and ice cream trucks. Most residents were staying in or taking advantage of pools and cooling centers.

Cierra Christmas and Ayana Welch, both 11, were cooling off in sprinklers at the Rotunda Recreation Center pool.

"It's scorching hot," Christmas said. "I would say, it seems like I'm in an oven and it's on 360 and I'm being baked like a cake."

Welch laughed, adding, "360? I'm at 550!"

At the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, workers were using air conditioning and tubs of ice cubes to try to keep four ailing seals cool. The animals were staying under water more than usual.

At the beach nearby, Scott Heath had the same approach. He was taking dips in the ocean every 15 minutes. "Without that, it would be uncomfortable," he said.

"Like eggs on the griddle," added his friend, Peter Leonardis. "We don't usually bring the umbrellas. But you can't sit out in the sun today."

The scalding temperature didn't deter tourists from waiting in line as long as 45 minutes to get into Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop, the Hoboken home of The Learning Channel's "Cake Boss."

One of those sweating for his sweets was Kevin Garnett of East Lansing, Mich. "The weather's going to do what it's going to do," said Garnett, no relation to the NBA star of the same name. "You can't compete with Mother Nature, so you might as well do what you're going to do."

PSE&G, the state's largest utility, said Tuesday's power demand was the highest of the year so far - but short of the record set during that 2006 heat wave. Spokeswoman Karen Johnson said the company would be able to meet demand but was asking customers to conserve where possible.

The company said about 14,000 customers of the 2.1 million it serves were without power Tuesday night. Electricity was out in parts of Elizabeth, Jersey City, Newark, Little Falls, Ridgewood and Elmwood Park.

Tuesday's triple-digit temperatures were the hottest part of an unusually hot run. Robinson said the stretch between April and June was the hottest statewide since records began being kept 115 years ago.

It's also been dry, with no measurable rain most places for more than two weeks. Strong thunderstorms that felled trees and knocked out power in parts of New Jersey in late June didn't bring much rain with them.

The situation is bad enough that New Jersey American Water Co. has told residents in Monmouth County to stop watering lawns and washing cars and has asked Ocean County residents to voluntarily limit water use.

The state said groundwater levels are now moderately or severely dry everywhere except the southern coastal part of the state. And stream flows in northern half of the state are moderately dry.

Robinson said the only reason the state isn't mired in a drought already is that the first three months of the year were the wettest on record.


PSE&G is continuing to monitor weather conditions, and has extra personnel and supplies on hand to assure that heat-related emergencies are handled safely and promptly.

Today's peak electric demand is expected to be about 10,500 megawatts, which would be the highest so far this summer.

Although PSE&G expects to have enough electricity to meet demand, it's always helpful to conserve where possible. PSE&G is providing the following conservation tips:

  • Turn off everything you're not using; lights, TVs, computers, etc. Use dimmers, timers and motion detectors on indoor and outdoor lighting.

  • Close blinds, shades and draperies facing the sun to keep the sun's heat out and help fans and air conditioners cool more efficiently.
  • Close doors leading to uncooled parts of your home. With central air, close off vents to unused rooms.
  • Delay heat-producing tasks such as washing and drying laundry or dishes until later in the day, and wait until load is full.
  • Refrain from using nonessential appliances. Unplug or use only when necessary an extra refrigerator in your garage. Also, customers should consider setting their air conditioners to 78 degrees, health permitting.

    To report a power outage, call PSE&G's Customer Service line: 1-800-436-PSEG or log on to My Account at www.pseg.com

    Because the weather is so extreme, PSE&G is activating a Twitter page to keep the public informed about our activities. You can go to http://twitter.com/psegoutageinfo for information.