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Utilities toil as bay area boils

Hot weather with hardly a cloud in sight has turned the Tampa Bay area into a pressure cooker.

The "feels like" index is pushing 100. One utility is pumping out record levels of power. And on Tuesday, a 65-year-old temperature record was broken.

The temperature did not drop below 81 all day. The previous highest minimum for the day was 80, set in 1931.

The sun, said meteorologist Ron Morales, "is just relentless."

Florida Power set its summer usage record on Monday, with peak demand measured at 7,164 megawatts. That eclipsed the mark of 7,128 set Aug. 15 last year.

The utility said it could set another record this week if the cloudless weather continues.

"We'll be right up in that range all week," said Karen Raihill, a spokeswoman. "An afternoon shower tends to cut the demand quite sharply. That brings it down noticeably."

That hasn't been happening.

The Tampa Electric Co. reported it was "in the ballpark" of its summer peak, which is about 3,145 megawatts. But spokesman Mike Mahoney said a record had not been set.

The heat results from a ridge of high pressure that traps hot air over Florida and keeps potentially cooling showers away from the region. The system is expected to stay in place the rest of the week, Morales said.

Highs are expected in the low 90s today. The chance of rain is 50 percent.

Despite what feels like withering heat, Morales said this week's temperatures actually are about normal. Tuesday's high was 91, just a tad above normal and well short of the record for the date, 95 in 1959.

What's different, he said, is the lack of clouds or rain.

"That makes it feel hotter than it is."