Visitors to New York's Times Square took notice Wednesday when, in a bid to preserve power and avoid a repeat of 2003's blackout, several giant video billboards were turned off as the heat index peaked at 115 degrees. Lights in office buildings were dimmed as the heat wave, which killed at least 136 people in California two weeks ago, settled over the boiling East Coast. Since Sunday, the punishing heat has played a role in about 20 deaths across the nation.
In New York, officials have taken several steps to combat the rising mercury, extending hours of operation at public swimming pools and at the city's 380-plus cooling centers, where thousands have been flocking for free water and air-conditioned sanctuary. The response to the heat in other cities along the Eastern seaboard has been much the same.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service says more than 50 temperature records have been set in the U.S. within the last two weeks. Research suggests that last month may have been the hottest July on record, swiping the title from July 1936.
So with the heat as intense as it is, what measures are concert promoters taking to keep fans from passing out? Well, at several recent Ozzfests (see "Avenged Win Over Crowd, System Snore, Ozzy Returns To Form At Ozzfest Launch"), for example, metalheads stood under metal misting pipes while security guards used hoses to drench the crowd. Several bands even loaded up Super Soakers to douse each other and their fans.
At this weekend's Lollapalooza in Chicago (see "Kanye West, Red Hot Chili Peppers Lead Lollapalooza '06 Lineup"), temperatures are not expected to exceed the high 80s. But the festival's organizers have taken steps to keep fans cool and are prepared to add more heat relief if the weathermen flubbed the forecast.
There will be an air-conditioned, 3,300-square-foot enclosure — called the AT&T Oasis — where fans can catch a break from the heat, along with a 1,000-square-foot patio complete with fans and misters. There will also be more than a dozen free water stations, and security guards, stationed at the front of the stage, will be armed with hoses to soak the crowd. During last summer's searing Lolla, organizers set up just six free water stations and two misting stations. But they also utilized hoses to cool down the 66,000-strong audience, distributed 1,200 bottles of free water and summoned four cooling buses when temperatures reached triple digits.
The team behind this year's Austin City Limits (see "Raconteurs, Flaming Lips, Gnarls Barkley Line Up For Austin City Limits Fest"), which boasts Massive Attack, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the Flaming Lips, the Raconteurs and others, has also stepped up its efforts to provide refuge from the heat. At this year's festival, taking place in Austin, Texas, September 15 to September 17, there will be twice as many shading tents and misting stations as were provided last year, along with triple the number of free water sources on site. An area dubbed "the Beach" will feature 15 square feet of shade and misting.
A spokesperson for this weekend's Street Scene in San Diego said heat is not a concern, with the high forecasted at a comfortable 76 degrees. But just in case, they'll have eight 20 feet by 20 feet shade booths set up, complete with misters. Also, there will be water stations throughout the grounds, selling water for $2 a bottle.
Kevin Lyman — founder of the Warped Tour, which hits Camden, New Jersey, Thursday (August 3) — says steps are being taken to handle the heat this year (see "Emo Rules Warped Tour '06, But AFI Draw Biggest Crowd"). But that promise was of little help to Warped concertgoers in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where about 40 people were transported to the hospital on Wednesday with dehydration. Lyman says the tour travels with its own tents and cooling systems for sweating fans. Misting fans are set up on either side of the stage, and workers are provided with a rack of water guns to douse the crowd.
Lyman even arranged for a huge, inflatable Slip N' Slide to go on the tour so kids can run around and get wet.
Despite the extreme heat, Lyman says heat exhaustion and dehydration are down between 60 and 80 percent from last year — attendance is down too (10 percent), for the first time in the tour's history. This summer, he put pressure on concert promoters to put up more shade tents to enhance the overall Warped experience, and the promoters took his advice, providing more shaded areas for fans.
For more on Ozzfest, check out the feature "Backstage at Ozzfest."