NEW YORK CITY — The Big Apple baked Wednesday under scorching temperatures as the official start of summer brought in a heat blast that sent New Yorkers scrambling ways to try to beat the heat.
The mercury was inching toward 96 degrees Wednesday, and was expected to hit a record-tying 97 degrees Thursday, according to AccuWeather. High humidity and low winds will make the air feel closer to 105 and 106 degrees each day, forecasters said.
The temperature at 2 p.m. had already reached 92 degrees, according to AccuWeather.
"If you were outside, you would know that it's the first day of summer," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a news conference at the BronxWorks Morris Senior Center in The Bronx. "It's hot out there, and it's going to stay hot."
The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning just before 2 p.m. that would be in effect until 8 p.m. The warning is expected to last until 8 p.m. Thursday, the service said.
Bloomberg added that the heat was no laughing matter.
"We joke about the heat," he said. "But when it gets to be this hot, it really is not a joke."
He advised New Yorkers to stay inside with air conditioners or visit of the city's 450 cooling centers, which will be open Wednesday and Thursday.
But at the Morris Senior Center where Bloomberg visited, Augustine Gonzalez, 70, said the air conditioning was working just fine — in fact, it was freezing.
"It's about 50, 55 degrees in here," Gonzalez, wearing a light Mets jacket, said. "People are complaining about that."
The city's outdoor pools open on June 28. Bloomberg advised cooling off at public beaches in the meantime — but only when lifeguards are present. Earlier this month, a 14-year-old boy drowned at a beach in Far Rockaway with no lifeguards present.
"If you can't find a place with a lifeguard, just don't go in the water," he said. "Cooling off is just not as important as living."
The mayor struck a different tone when asked about students scheduled to take exams Wednesday and Thursday at buildings without air conditioning.
"Life is full of exams on hot days and cold days. I suspect if you talk to everyone in this room, not one of them went to a school where they had air conditioning, and yet they did pretty well," Bloomberg told reporters. "There's nothing unsafe about it."
New Yorkers across all five boroughs, meanwhile, resorted to tried and true ways to stay cool.
In Park Slope, Brooklyn, J.J. Byrne Playground was packed with kids eager to cool off in the playground's many water features. Drenched children played at water cannons, a water pump and several sprinklers that shot streams of water skyward.
"He hasn't been out of the water since we got here," said Harvey Turer of his 2-year-old grandson William, who was soaked head-to-toe. "I can't get him to get out of the water to have a drink."
The playground was recently reopened after a one-year renovation. Marcia Mello, who was playing at the water cannons with her 6-year-old niece, Meredith, said she appreciated that the playground's water features don't run continuously and require someone to push a button to work. "It doesn't waste water," Mello said. "It's got an ecological component. They put a lot of thought into this. It was worth waiting for."
Meanwhile a group of students from Park Slope's Al-Madinah School tried to relax before a chemistry Regents exam later in the day. The students, girls dressed in traditional Muslim abayas, took a break on the swing set after doing some last-minute studying with worksheets on atomic structure. Khawla Saleh, 17, said swinging was good way to blow off steam before the test.
"I feel like a bird, flying in the air," she said. Despite appearances, she said her head-to-toe black dress wasn't too hot. "People think we're hot, but we're cooler, because we're covered from the sun."
In The Bronx, brothers Angel Cuesto, 15, and Carlos Polanco, 13, seemed to defy the heat as they shot hoops on an outdoor court on Walton Avenue.
"We were born in the DR," Carlos said, referring to the Dominican Republic. "It's always hot over there."
The boys planned to go to Orchard Beach to swim and take in the views.
"They have a lot of girls over there," Angel said.
And in Central Park, Mary Lewis, 17, waiting on line for Shakespeare in the Park with an ice pack on the back of her neck. She had been there with her two brothers for five hours.
"We're keeping cool," she said. "We're sleeping a lot."
Officials, meanwhile, were sweating the details to keep the city going.
The MTA warned Wednesday that train signals, elevator and escalator service may be reduced to lower energy consumption, as required by contracts with the agency's power suppliers.
"While we are obligated to reduce power consumption, we will make every effort to provide safe and reliable service throughout our entire network," MTA chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota said in a statement. "We will do everything possible to avoid service disruptions."
There were no reported power outages in the city, a Con Ed spokesman said.
In anticipation of a scorching summer, the utility has spent $1.2 billion for system improvements, including cables, transformers and network protectors, among other upgrades, for 2012.
Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, Con Edison announced it had reduced voltage to multiple neighborhoods in both Brooklyn and Queens because of equipment problems.
In Brooklyn, those neighborhoods include: Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bedford Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Windsor Terrace, Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Midwood, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Gravesend, Bensonhurst and Bath Beach.
In Queens, the affected areas include: Glen Oaks, Floral Park, Bellerose, Queens Village, Bellaire, Holliswood, Hollis, St. Albans, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Jamaica, South Jamaica, Jamaica Hills, Glendale, Forrest Hills, Forrest Hills Garden and Middle Village.
Con Edison was asking all customers in those areas to turn off non-essential equipment, including computers and air-conditioners.
Con Ed spokesman Mike Clendenin said customers can report outages at www.coned.com or call 1-800-75-CONED.
New York City's highest temperature on June 20, recorded in 1923, was 98 degrees, according to AccuWeather.com. It only reached a high of 81 degrees on the same date last year.
The highest recorded temperature for June 21 was 97 degrees in 1988, according to AccuWeather.
Nikhita Venugopal, Maya Shwayder and Wil Cruz contributed to this story.