A record-breaking temperature of 100 degrees was recorded Wednesday at LaGuardia Airport at 4:40 p.m., less than two hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Office of Emergency Management Commissioner John Scrivani hosted a press conference declaring a heat emergency and urging New Yorkers to restrict electricity usage. Strain on the electrical system that had already caused outages in pockets across the city, affecting as many as 3,400 New Yorkers.
De Blasio noted that locations for cooling centers around the five boroughs—air-conditioned sites where New Yorkers can seek refuge—were listed on the city’s “Beat the Heat’ page.
But by the time temperatures peaked at their record-high Wednesday afternoon, many of the city’s emergency cooling centers had already closed for the day, or were about to. Many of the sites, hosted in public schools, community centers, and senior centers, shut down at 3 or 5 p.m.
Of the hundreds of dedicated cooling centers in the city, only a portion were open around 7 p.m. Wednesday, while temperatures continued to hover in the low 90s.
“More than 20 cooling centers are open as late as 8 p.m. tonight, in line with the heat advisory issued by the National Weather Service,” a spokesperson with the Office of Emergency Management told City Limits Wednesday. “The cooling centers manage their own hours of operation and are subject to change.”
The hours of each site are listed on the city’s cooling centers website, which was made inactive by Thursday morning, by which time the intense heat had been broken by overnight rains. A capture of the cooling centers map with their hours is available on the Internet Archive.
Most sites say that “hours may be extended during a heat emergency.” But City Limits called more than 20 sites Wednesday night in Brooklyn and Queens that indicated they may have extended hours, including eight that were reserved for seniors. Only two answered the phone. Of those, one reported it was remaining open two hours later than its posted closing time of 6 p.m. The other, located in Hunts Points, one of the highest-risk areas for heat vulnerability, reported it was closing at 7 p.m., as planned. (The other Hunts Point cooling center, at a middle school, listed a closing time of 5 p.m. and did not pick up the phone when we called just before 7 p.m.)
Libraries and sites run by the Department of Youth and Community Development were open late, according to the Office of Emergency Management. Also, vaccination centers, such as the ones at Citi Field and Brooklyn Army Terminal, were open until 10 p.m.
On Tuesday, mayoral candidate and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams criticized the lack of cooling centers in Queens. “That’s completely unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter, linking to a Patch article about the disparity. “We need to open more cooling centers in communities with vulnerable populations, immediately.”
De Blasio addressed this concern in the press conference saying, “We are adding centers, literally day by day.” He added that more would be open next week.
The Chief Medical Examiner confirmed to City Limits that the city did not experience any heat-related deaths on Wednesday. The four-day heatwave was the second to hit New York so far this summer.
Liz Donovan is a Report for America corps member.