ANNAPOLIS -- How hot and humid was it yesterday? The best place to judge was the playground at Crofton Elementary School, where standing in the shade was the favorite recess activity.
Think construction laborers and postal carriers have it tough in this kind of weather? Try sitting in Mrs. McGoogan's first-grade art class, cutting and pasting paper mobiles while your hands are all sweaty.
"We do better in the mornings when it's cooler," a frustrated Elizabeth McGoogan explained to a visitor. "We do better any time when it's a little bit cooler."
Across Maryland, students and adults alike suffered through another sizzling day in what has been a roasting week.
The temperature in Baltimore hit 99 degrees by 4 p.m., with a 33 percent humidity reading, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters predict that the same miserable weather pattern will persist into the weekend.
Thunderstorms began popping up here and there south of Baltimore about 10 o'clock last night. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. reported power outages affecting about 14,000 households: 9,700 around Anne Arundel County, 3,500 in Baltimore County and the rest scattered about the metropolitan area.
The storms dumped brief, heavy rain, mostly on Anne Arundel County, including Annapolis, and on Prince George's County before moving east across the Chesapeake Bay.
BG&E work crews restored power to all but about 4,700 homes by midnight, the company said.
Even with the rain, there was little relief from the heat.
"The storms are moving fast, 30-to-35 mph -- they're not staying in one place very long," said Ken Shaver, a weather service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where a high of 98 degrees yesterday broke the daily record there for the month of May.
"There's no break in sight other than passing afternoon thunderstorms," he said. "It's more of a July or August type of weather pattern."
Yesterday was Maryland's sixth straight day with temperatures above 90 degrees, setting a record that is likely to be fleeting; today will surely make it seven in a row.
It has been the hottest May ever, with eight days of 90-degree heat and an average daily high of 69.6 degrees, according to airport readings.
Baltimore public schools dismissed students at 12:30 p.m., Baltimore County sent students home one hour early, and Harford County students were dismissed two hours earlier than normal.
Anne Arundel County, which yesterday did not send students home early, decided to dismiss them three hours ahead of time today in anticipation of another scorcher.
In the Baltimore area, only Carroll and Howard counties have kept students in school on a normal schedule through the heat. All Howard County schools have air conditioning, while Carroll County officials simply question the value of early dismissals.
"We operate on the policy that takes into account that if we dismiss early we'd often be sending kids home to [non]-air-conditioned homes where there may be no supervision," said Carey Gaddis, a spokeswoman for Carroll County schools.
Douglas J. Neilson, a spokesman for Baltimore schools, said the decision to dismiss early yesterday conformed with the system's policy of ending school early whenever the temperature reaches 90 degrees by 11 a.m. In fact, he said, the temperature soared to 92 degrees shortly after 10 a.m.
At Anne Arundel's Crofton Elementary, it was easy to appreciate the wisdom of an early dismissal. Unlike other schools in the Crofton area, the 22-year-old building lacks central air conditioning and the brick-and-block construction causes the interior to bake like an oversized kiln.
In every classroom, white ceiling fans installed just last year were whirling away, as were box fans scattered throughout the building. The school's media lab is air-conditioned. So are the principal's office and the teacher lounge. Not surprisingly, all three have become quite popular.
Most of the school's 265 students wear T-shirts and shorts, and many of the teachers allow them to carry water bottles. Some of the older boys have taken to wearing damp paper towels on their foreheads, evidently a fairly cool thing to do by preteen standards.
"We sweat too much," complained 11-year-old Matt Hardy. "Your shirt gets stuck to your back, then it gets the desk wet when you put your head down."
Fellow sixth-grader Lisa Bright questioned the wisdom of boys who insisted on playing soccer, kickball or basketball when the school's principal had specifically told them not to exert themselves.
"They're stupid," she said. "They're taking up more heat."
Fifth-grader Deitra Queen didn't even want to think about getting out of the shade or playing ball. "It's like a toaster oven," she said.
To help cope with the weather, teachers have taken to turning off overhead lights whenever possible and letting students periodically visit the water fountains.