It wasn’t New York City-hot or Boston-hot, but Portland set a heat record of its own Tuesday when the official temperature reached 95 degrees at the jetport.

And that was hot enough for Christopher Jones.

“The hottest is on top of the head,” Jones said while directing traffic around a small paving project on Congress Street.

Jones used ice water and a rag to keep his head cool under one of the orange construction helmets that he and other workers had to wear.

“(The hat) is like a greenhouse,” said Bob Schnapp, a utility contractor who was repairing a gas line at the site. “It heats up and you get all this sweat and condensation, and then when you lean forward it all pours down your face and all over your glasses.”

The heat was good for business at Maine Hardware in Portland, which sold fans and air conditioners nearly as fast as the shelves could be restocked. The store expected another shipment of air conditioners late Tuesday, said manager Tim Currier.

“It’s a madhouse in here today,” Currier said. “After people have dealt with it two or three days in a row (they) will take anything we have.”

Portland’s official high temperature, measured at the Portland International Jetport, topped the previous record for July 6, which was 91 degrees, set in 1952, according to the National Weather Service.

Other parts of the city were even hotter. Downtown, the electronic Time and Temperature sign said 97 degrees.

The real heat, however, was inland.

Sanford hit 99 degrees Tuesday afternoon, according to the weather service.

It was the third day of 90-degree-plus temperatures in Sanford, giving the town the distinction of having an official heat wave. The temperature reached 91 on Sunday and 93 on Monday.

Along much of the East Coast, including New York and Boston, temperatures broke 100 degrees Tuesday. The triple-digit heat followed a sticky holiday weekend in the Northeast.

That warm weather, along with plenty of sunshine, may have helped drive up traffic on the Maine Turnpike.

Traffic over this Fourth of July weekend was 8.9 percent heavier than last year, according to the Maine Turnpike Authority. Spokesman Dan Paradee attributed the increase to “spectacular weather and stable gas prices.”

Although Maine was not under a federal heat advisory, as much of the Northeast was, the state’s top public health official issued a warning Tuesday to be careful and watch out for heat illnesses.

“Heat-related illnesses and deaths are preventable, yet over the past 30 years more people have died in this country from heat than from hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined,” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “All Mainers should take the simple measures of keeping cool, drinking adequate fluids and lying low.”

Most susceptible to the heat are infants and young children, adults older than 65, people with mental illness and those who have chronic illnesses such as heart disease or high blood pressure, Mills said.

Maine Medical Center in Portland saw a small increase in the number of people showing up with conditions that appeared to be heat-related on Tuesday, including elderly patients who felt weak or dizzy, said John Lamb, a hospital spokesman.

In the York County town of Lebanon, rescue volunteers checked on residents with known medical problems and went door-to-door to hand out fliers about safety in extreme heat. The volunteers will arrange for transportation to cooling stations this week if needed, said the Lebanon Rescue Department.

Temperatures in southern Maine were expected to drop back into the 80s today but remain above normal through the rest of this week, said Andy Pohl, a meteorologist with the weather service.

The next good chance of rain appears to be on Saturday, he said.

 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at: [email protected]