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Even night gives little relief from heat
Advisories continue through state
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ATLANTA — No hope that night cooling might give a break to air conditioners — and to those who have to make do without AC in Georgia's record-setting heat wave.
The temperature before dawn Wednesday at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was 82 degrees — the highest low temperature ever recorded there, topping the record of 81 set in 1879 and matched in 1980.
"That just makes it even more oppressive," said National Weather Service meteorologist Sean Ryan. "There's no chance to cool down."
Except for the northeastern corner, Georgia was under a heat advisory again Wednesday. At 5 p.m. the heat index had reached 120 in Waycross, where the temperature was 99 degrees. The heat index reached 115 at Brunswick and was over 100 at nearly all locations around the state.
Savannah was under an excessive heat warning. Already the heat had sent seven people to hospitals there with heat-related illnesses Wednesday afternoon, including two treated for heat exhaustion at Memorial Health University Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Bryna Gordon.
Georgia Power reported record electricity consumption by its 2.3 million customers for the second day in a row, and utility officials believed a new high might be reached Wednesday. The 17,745 megawatts used Tuesday surpassed the record of 17,547 on Monday, company spokesman Jeff Wilson said. He said Wednesday's figures would not be finalized until Thursday morning.
Blistering temperatures in the high 90s and low 100s, mixed with suffocating humidity, were expected to last at least through Thursday and start slowly going down only over the weekend. Nothing more than an occasional, isolated rain shower was expected to bring relief.
The lack of rain and the heat that drains moisture from the ground have also lead to an exceptional drought declaration Wednesday for some 37 counties in the northwest and southwest Georgia, including parts of metro Atlanta. Such a condition happens once every 100 years.
State climatologist David Stooksbury said 55 counties are in the extreme drought category, 16 in severe, 21 moderate, 10 in mild and eight abnormally dry. Drought is no longer a problem for 12 counties in inland southeast Georgia.
In Macon, the Red Cross helped open a cooling center Wednesday afternoon to offer air conditioning and water, and it was also looking for donated fans to deliver to people who can't afford them, said Sandy Baxter, spokeswoman for the Central Georgia Regional Chapter of the American Red Cross. The forecast high was 102 degrees there, feeling like 112 with the humidity.
The high pressure area creating the sweltering conditions was sitting right on top of the Atlanta area, where the forecast high for Wednesday and Thursday was 99 — just one degree shy of the temperature last recorded in the summer of 2000.
The heat, combined with abysmal air quality and a code red smog alert, prompted authorities to encourage people to stay indoors and drink plenty of water whenever they need to venture outdoors.
In downtown Savannah, Meaghan Scott with the Plantation Carriage Company said horse-drawn carriage tours that usually run until 9 p.m. would be pulled off the streets by early afternoon.
"Once it gets too hot for the horses, we go in for the day," Scott said.
Construction worker Joe Graham also planned to send his six-man crew home by early afternoon. Late Wednesday morning in Savannah, he took a break from smoothing fresh concrete on a patch of sidewalk to refill his five-gallon water cooler — which his crew had drained before noon.
Graham, 42, said he wouldn't be surprised if he'd drunk a gallon himself, pointing to the sweat pouring from his face and arms.
"You can see it come out," he said. "When it stops, that's how we know to stop working. I'm going to go home and take a shower and lie down under the air conditioner."

Associated Press reporter Russ Bynum in Savannah contributed to this report.

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