By Mary Wisniewski and Lauren Keiper
CHICAGO/BOSTON (Reuters) - Extreme heat steamed the eastern United States on Thursday, while in the Midwest, temperatures dropped by as much as 40 degrees and thunderstorms delayed flights at Chicago airports.
Boston, Philadelphia and the Washington D.C. and Baltimore area could see 100-degree temperatures Thursday. While the temperature will not climb quite that high in New York City and northeastern New Jersey, the humidity will make it feel like it, with a heat index of up to 102 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
Schools across New Jersey closed after lunch Wednesday and Thursday due to the heat, sending parents scrambling to make last minute child care arrangements. A few districts, such as Montclair in Essex County, opted to stay open to accommodate working parents.
"I put Jess in shorts and a tank top and she was fine," said Leslie Kunkin of Montclair, whose 7-year-old daughter's classroom does not have air conditioning. Teachers opened windows, set up fans and plied children with water. "What kind of princesses are we raising these days they can't go to school in the heat?"
In Philadelphia, schools also planned to close early Thursday. Boston temperatures were expected to be in the 90s although some inland Massachusetts locations could reach 100 degrees, authorities said.
Heavy thunderstorms are expected to move east Thursday afternoon, with a threat in the Philadelphia and New York area from late afternoon though tonight, said Eliot Abrams, a meteorologist with AccuWeather.com.
"In the meantime, it's baking, boiling and frying," Abrams said. Abrams said it has not been this hot on June 9 since 1933.
New York City has 524 public cooling centers, including libraries and senior centers, where overheated residents can step into air conditioning, get water, and call for medical help if they need it.
To keep air conditioned air inside New York subways, only one door will open on cars, while the other will remain shut, according to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.
In Boston, the weather attracted record crowds to the annual Jimmy Fund Scooper Bowl, an ice cream event to raise money for cancer research.
Shaded tents and bottled water are being provided for the Springfield, Massachusetts area, where workers are still cleaning up from deadly tornadoes last week.
Some Pittsburgh-area residents complained that the heat is keeping them indoors.
"I'm staying inside too much, and my dogs aren't exactly happy either," Cindy Hood, 54, a retired state case worker, said as she walked her two dachshunds. "They would not go their full walk today ... They both looked at me and turned around. They're like, 'We're done, we're thirsty.'"
Diane Nocito, 64, of Shaler, said she steps outside the tanning salon where she works when the heat becomes too much.
"It gets hot when the beds are all running," she said, standing in the doorway to the salon. "I don't like it when it's hot like this, but what are you going to do? It's better than the snow. We have a hot tub at home so we just go in there and cool off."
Heat led to the deaths of two Wisconsin men Wednesday, officials said Thursday. Michael A. Lewis, 34, and Anthony D. Sutton, 37, both of Wausau, had been drinking alcohol before they jumped from a railroad bridge into the Wisconsin River and drowned, according to the Wausau Police Department.
Police say they believe the two jumped into the water to cool off, as it was 92 degrees and humid.
Earlier in the week, a Milwaukee nursing home resident died after being left unattended for three hours in the heat, while in Tennessee, a 75-year-old Memphis woman and a 60-year-old man in Brighton both died of the heat.
(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni, John Rondy, Bernd Debusmann, Jr., Ronda Kaysen, James Kelleher, Daniel Lovering; and Dave Warner; Editing by Greg McCune)