Sweltering heat enveloped most of southern, western and central Maine on Thursday with temperatures surging into the 90 degree range.

Sanford, Fryeburg and Lewiston suffered through actual high temperatures of 94, 93 and 90 degrees respectively. But the heat index made it feel like 106 degrees in Sanford and 105 in Lewiston.

One of the coolest places to be was in midcoast Maine. Rockland’s high temperature only reached 77 degrees. Portland recorded a high of 89 around 3 p.m., but it felt like it was 99.

High temperatures and historic humidity also triggered warnings about heat illnesses and respiratory distress from ground level ozone in southern Maine on Thursday.

The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for much of the state, including Cumberland and York counties, through 8 p.m. Friday.

“It is so (freaking) hot. Can you believe I almost died of heatstroke in Maine?” said Michael Smith, 30, as he rested in Portland’s cooling center Thursday afternoon. Smith said he is homeless and needed a place to take a break from the heat. “Last time I checked, Maine isn’t supposed to be so hot.”

The heat index, or the apparent temperature, ranged from 100 to 108 degrees south of Portland on Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. The heat index is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature.

Those muggy conditions were created by unusually high dew points, ranging from 70 to 78 degrees Thursday afternoon. Dew point represents the temperature at which dew forms, and it rises with the amount of moisture in the air. In general, a dew point over 55 begins to feel sticky, and anything over 65 is muggy and oppressive.

A family floats on tubes down the Salmon Falls section of the Saco River in Hollis on Thursday. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“What’s happening today is you have these high dew points with temperatures in the 90s. We typically don’t hit the 90s with dew points this high,” said Andy Pohl, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray. “We’re just in a very moist air mass from south.”

The 78-degree dew point measured in Portland on Thursday afternoon was at least a 74-year high, according to research by Chris Legro, a National Weather Service meteorologist, who dug into the historical data for News Center Maine’s Keith Carson. That’s as long as weather has been tracked at the Portland International Jetport.

The weather service warned that the combination could cause heat-related illness and urged Mainers to take precautions, such as staying out of the direct sun and avoiding strenuous activity during the hottest parts of the day.

In addition, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued a warning about elevated ground-level ozone concentrations expected in southern coastal areas Thursday and all along the coast Friday. Ozone, a component of smog that forms when pollutants combine with heat and sunshine, can cause lung irritation or distress, especially in children, adults who exert themselves and individuals suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma.

For those working outdoors, the weather meant extra water and extra breaks.

Cody Kinney, 21, was busy Thursday digging up a stretch of Ocean Avenue in Portland for a repaving project. “After a few hours you get used to (the heat), but it takes a toll,” he said.

Stephen Macisso of Portland takes a break from his workout at Fitzpatrick Stadium on Thursday to cool off. “It’s so bad,” he said of the heat. “I can usually run 5 miles, and today I could only do one.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Wearing long pants in keeping with company policy, Kinney said he has learned how to beat the heat in his three years working in construction. “You have to get in the shade, drink water, take breaks when you need to,” he said.

His co-worker, 28-year-old Brian Griffin of Limerick, agreed. “I don’t mind working in the heat, I just drink water.”

Cooling centers were opened around the state Thursday for people who needed relief.

In Portland, city officials opened a cooling center at the Troubh Ice Arena on Park Avenue. The public is welcome to sit on the bleachers to cool off between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. through Friday.

“More people came to the cooling center today than any other day this summer. However, the number of people who have come today is less than 10,” said Peter Magadini, recreational programmer of the ice arena.

“Not enough people know about it,” Magadini said. While the city tries to spread the word, he said he is worried the information doesn’t get to homeless people “who are the most vulnerable population.”

South Portland’s community center and main library also will be available for heat relief this week. The community center is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, and will be again during those hours through Friday. The main library was open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday, and will be through Friday.

The Scarborough Public Library was open as a cooling center from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday.

Three locations in Falmouth are available as cooling centers this week. The Family Ice Arena on Hat Trick Drive is open weekdays from 4 a.m. to midnight. The Mason-Motz Activity Center on Middle Road was open Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and will be open Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. The Falmouth Memorial Library on Lunt Road is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday.

The weather service says heat and humidity will continue through Friday, with the heat index ranging from the middle 90s to 100 degrees or more in some areas. Overnight temperatures Thursday to Friday were expected to drop only into the 70s, providing little relief from the heat.

A cool front was expected to move through the area Saturday, but highs in Portland were still forecast to be in the upper 80s before the front arrives, along with possible showers and thunderstorms. It was expected to be cooler Sunday after the front moves through, with a high of about 77.

Friday will be only slightly less muggy than Thursday, Pohl said. In some southern and interior areas, it will still feel like it’s 100 degrees.

“It will be a little bit better, but not tremendously better.”

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