Heat breaks records as mercury soars to 100-degree mark


June 17, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien

Record-breaking heat brought an unwanted Father's Day present to Maryland yesterday -- triple-digit temperatures that sent people scurrying to beaches, backyard pools and just about any place that offered relief.

The temperature hit 100 degrees in Baltimore and 99 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport about 3:30 p.m., breaking records set in 1957 when the mercury hit 99 and 97, respectively.

But it felt even worse.

Amet Figueroa, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said that the heat index -- a formula that combines the temperature and relative humidity -- reached a stifling 105 degrees in the Baltimore area.

He blamed hot air trapped off the Atlantic Coast mixing with an air mass that baked as it swept in from the west and brought the sticky weather -- along with scattered thunderstorms -- to Maryland.

Today's forecast called for a modest improvement, with partly sunny skies, temperatures near 90 and another chance for thunderstorms.

"This warm air has been slowly building up in the area. We had seen it coming, but we didn't forecast it as 100-degree weather, because it's just so unusual for this time of year," he said.

Summer does not officially begin until Friday, and the last time that heat was measured in three digits in Baltimore was July 9, 1990, when thermometers recorded 104 degrees, he said.

But Mr. Figueroa said oven-like temperatures this early in the year are not unheard of, citing the 100 degrees of June 13, 1984 -- and more recently, the back-to-back readings of 102 and 104 on June 21 and 22, 1988.

Yesterday's heat prompted Marylanders to seek relief in a variety of places, from beaches and pools to marinas and ice cream parlors.

"We are busier now than I can ever remember, and I've been here five years," said Beth Newman, manager of the marina at Sandy Point State Park.

Ms. Newman said some of the throng could be attributed to the marina's Father's Day Special, which offered rentals of 16-foot power boats at reduced rates. But the heat was also bringing in the crowds, she said.

"The beach is packed. All the grills are taken, and all the picnic tables are full," she said.

The beaches also were packed in Ocean City, where the 70-degree water temperature offered a cool refuge from the 96-degree air.

Jay Cole, a dispatcher for the Ocean City Beach Patrol, said despite thousands flocking to the sand, there were few problems along the resort's 10-mile beachfront.

"For the amount of people it's been very quiet. We haven't had an ambulance call all day," Mr. Cole said. "I guess it's because a lot of people are in the water."

Karen Mlynski, supervisor at Lee's Ice Cream Factory in the 800 block of South Broadway, said customers had been filing into the shop in a steady stream all afternoon.

She said that the shop's location -- near a Fells Point water taxi stop -- makes it ideal for attracting clientele. But the steady business meant a constantly opening front door, with the shop's cool air heading for the exit. Fortunately, the ice cream didn't melt -- but the clerks came close.

The heat also meant behavioral adjustments for the winged, fur-covered and four-legged residents of the Baltimore Zoo. They found respite in the ponds, waterfalls, shady spots and indoor cages that were available.

"The elephants, they'll always be in the water, especially the females," said Mary Skjoldager, a zoo veterinary technician.

She said the zoo's polar, kodiak and black bears tend to gravitate toward the water, as do the flamingoes, ducks, geese and other waterfowl. Beasts without watering holes, she said, try to make the most of their surroundings.

"A lot of them tend to lay in the shade a good bit of the time."

Not every creature in Maryland was sweltering quite so much.

Officer John Milbourne, a Natural Resources Police officer at Deep Creek Lake State Park in Garrett County, said that the temperature on the bank thermometer in nearby Grantsville read a relatively balmy 87 degrees yesterday morning.

"It's probably hit about 90 degrees, but we don't get nearly the humidity you do in Baltimore," he said. "And we do have a nice breeze."

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