Pennsylvanians sweltered and sweated again Thursday, enduring temperatures that soared well into the 90s in a blast of unseasonable springtime heat that had one petting zoo operator sponging the armpits of her black Merino sheep.

The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for most Pennsylvania counties until 8 p.m. EDT Thursday as a hot, humid mass of air blanketed the region.

Schools without air conditioning closed early for a second day, but the searing temperatures didn't appear to be causing many serious problems. The state health department said it has received no reports of heat-related illnesses or deaths. The company that operates the regional electrical grid reported plenty of capacity.

In fact, some farmers welcomed the hot weather after an extremely wet spring.

"The sunny conditions are helping to dry out the hay crop, allowing farmers to harvest that crop. In addition, the dry weather should be helpful in getting corn to grow faster, after much of the corn crop was planted late due to prolonged wet weather throughout the spring," said Mark O'Neill of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

At the outdoor track at Penn State University's main campus, Special Olympics athletes made a beeline for the blue 5-gallon water buckets - before the early-afternoon activities had even started. Down the street and around the corner, the electronic marquee at the Jordan Center flashed a temperature of 93 degrees.

Competing in the heat? No sweat, said Franklin County athlete Brittany Brumbaugh, 20, who was taking part in the mini-javelin and long jump events Thursday.

"It don't bother me a bit," said Brumbaugh, the front of her green shirt wet after playfully throwing a cup of water on a teammate who had bumped into her. "Just drink a lot of water."

At a temporary petting zoo set up for the Special Olympics, Jennifer Zajaczkowski kept watch on a llama, two goats and Fern, the sheep - sheared Wednesday to keep cool.

"Yesterday, she was panting so bad that I actually was sponging under her armpits," Zajaczkowski said. Fern looked just fine early Thursday afternoon as she chewed on grass.

In Philadelphia, Bob Miller went on his usual lunchtime run but took sensible precautions, jogging a little slower, wearing a hat, and stopping at water fountains as he ran the five miles from University City to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and back along the Schuylkill River.

"To be honest with you, the worst part was showering and walking back to my office," said Miller, 36, who works at the University of Pennsylvania. "You get right back into the heat and you are sweating."

Susan Bastian, 53, of Burnsville, Minn., was one of more than a dozen people wading in the Logan Circle fountain in Philadelphia. She and several Minnesota colleagues, in town for a convention, were cooling off after a grueling climb up the Philadelphia art museum steps made famous in "Rocky."

"It wasn't pretty, but we ran them," she said.

In Orwigsburg, Schuylkill County, the promise of central air conditioning made Evan Bowen a happy man. Workmen were installing a 24,000-BTU unit at house Thursday, eliminating the need for fans and window units.

He ticked off the advantages of the new system: It'll be quieter, it'll cool more effectively, it's permanent.

"I didn't feel like lugging them around anymore," Bowen said of the heavy window units. "I usually have back problems for a week afterward."

It wasn't quite as hot in western Pennsylvania. At Presque Isle State Park along Lake Erie, lake breezes and intermittent clouds helped make it a downright balmy 74 degrees. But in Unity Township, about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, several firefighters had to be treated for heat exhaustion while fighting a blaze at an adult book store.

State parks reported brisk business. At Colonel Denning State Park, west of Harrisburg, the heat drew plenty of visitors to the park's small but inviting lake. Thirty miles north of Pittsburgh, in Portersville, the weather helped Moraine State Park draw more people than usual on what's typically a slow week.

"We're very weather dependent. If the weather's warm, our beaches are crowded," said Jeremy Rekich, the assistant park manager.


Associated Press writers Genaro C. Armas, Kathy Matheson, Marc Levy, Joe Mandak and Peter Jackson contributed to this report.

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