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The view at 7:09 p.m. ET on June 20, 2012, the moment of solstice in Toronto.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Summer hit Southern Ontario with an opening combination punch of scorching heat, dirty air and sweat-inducing humidity.

Temperatures reportedly climbed to 34.6 degrees Wednesday, busting the record of 34.4 set in 1949 and matched in 1988 for Toronto's hottest June 20. The southerly air wafting up from the Gulf of Mexico brought pollutants, triggering both extreme heat and smog alerts for the region.

"When a heat wave goes on, the second or third day we're breathing the same air we breathed the first day," said Dave Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada. "The air is staler, and we're a little bit more cranky."

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The forecast for Thursday is 33 degrees, and Mr. Phillips said cooler air flowing in from the north will bring relief on Friday.

Uncomfortable conditions were also felt along the U.S. eastern seaboard, including in New York, Boston and Washington, where temperatures reached the mid-to-high 30s.

In North Bergen, N.J., several relatives of high-school graduates were treated for heat exhaustion at an outdoor ceremony and taken to hospital, police said. Ambulances were on standby at the event, which was held outside to accommodate about 5,000 people. And, in Howell, N.J., school officials made Wednesday the last day of the school year instead of Thursday, citing the heat.

In Toronto, there were no reports of school closings.

SOME LIKE IT HOT

Torontonians may gripe about gridlock and their struggling sports teams, but many weren't sweating the heat. Metro Hall, one of the city's seven designated cooling centres, was sparsely populated as office dwellers lined benches and ledges around Roy Thomson Hall to eat their lunches. Along the waterfront, Kerri Gloubin slathered her two children with sunscreen and said she would still choose a hot outdoor afternoon over playing video games indoors: "In a way, my kids being inside all day is worse."

Mike MacDonald, who was jogging shirtless along Queens Quay in the afternoon, saw it as an opportunity to work on his tan: "I run every day, I just take it easy and try not to burn."

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COMMUTER HELL

Rush-hour commuters in the GTA faced a slightly longer (and sweatier) wait to reach their air-conditioned abodes on Wednesday evening. Soaring temperatures caused sections of the GO Train tracks to swell, leading to delays of up to 20 minutes as trains travelled at slower speeds. Riders of the rocket were luckier: TTC spokesperson Milly Bernal said subway tracks at outdoor stations can expand in the heat, but there were no delays because the majority of the tracks run underground.

HEALTH RISKS

Enjoy the sunny weather, but don't underestimate the heat, say city paramedics.

"When you have this kind of heat early in the summer, people haven't had the time for their bodies to physically adjust," said Darcy Brebner of Toronto Emergency Medical Services (EMS). "You really do have to take it easier."

Mr. Brebner said EMS typically receives between 750 and 775 calls on a daily basis. During an extreme heat alert, there's a spike of up to 10 per cent as a result of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and dehydration, or heat-exacerbated cardiac or respiratory emergencies. EMS responded to 16 heat-related illness calls on Wednesday, up slightly from earlier this week.

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As heat alerts drag on, Mr. Brebner said the lack of relief can overwhelm people living with pre-existing conditions, especially if they don't have air conditioning.

"The longer the heat alerts go on, vulnerable people are at risk because of the lack of cooling after one day," he said. "We suggest if you do know anyone who is elderly, vulnerable, immobile or isolated, that you check in on them regularly."

POWER USAGE

Last June, Ontario's peak electricity usage for the month was 22,765 megawatts. That number was already surpassed on Wednesday alone, with peak power usage hitting 24,227 MW at 2 p.m.

"The usage is typical for the weather we're having, but last June we didn't have a heat wave like we're having now," said Alexandra Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Independent Electricity System Operator. She added that the record high for power usage is 27,005 MW, set on Aug. 1, 2006.

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