Relief may be in the offing, but the heat wave is still taking its toll Bermuda high should be gone by Friday

July 12, 1993|By Jonathan Bor and Norris P. West | Jonathan Bor and Norris P. West,Staff Writers

The stubborn heat and humidity may loosen its grip on the area this week.

A "cold front" -- that's what the National Weather Service called it -- crossed Maryland yesterday, but it did not spare Baltimore's downtown its fifth straight day of triple-digit heat.

According to National Weather Service forecasters, the front lowered the humidity and the "misery index," and offered a hint that the scorch siege will begin to break up this week. The stubborn Bermuda high that pumped in the heat and humidity should be gone by Friday.

In the meantime, hospital emergency rooms kept busy treating patients for heat-related problems.

Maryland's chief medical examiner, Dr. John Smialek, said his office is investigating the deaths of two people in their 40s who arrived at hospitals over the weekend with body temperatures of 107 and 108 degrees. Dr. Smialek said factors other than the weather may have contributed to the deaths.

In addition, he said, "We had an unusually high number of elderly people dying of heart disease that seemed to have been adversely affected by the heat." There were 19 such cases Saturday and yesterday, he said -- more than twice the number of elderly heart disease victims his office normally would expect to see.

Early yesterday, weather forecasters predicted that the cold front, which dipped south and parceled out a few showers as it brushed over Baltimore Saturday night, would hold temperatures to the barely tolerable mid-90s.

It was not to be.

The front moved north again, and searing sunshine fueled a rise in the mercury to highs of 101 degrees in downtown Baltimore, and 98 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

Whether the city established a record with its five straight 100-degree days remained a mystery. Forecasters in the National Weather Service office at BWI said it seemed like a record, but they couldn't put their hands on the figures.

"We're getting awfully darn close to the record if we didn't break it," said forecaster Dick Diener.

If there was a longer string, the weather experts said, it likely would have occurred in 1988 when city residents were subjected to 13 days in the triple digits. But a check of newspaper clippings showed that the hellish temperatures never occurred in spurts longer than three days.

Yesterday's city high fell a degree short of the record 102, and the airport missed the mark by 2 degrees. Both records were set in 1988.

Mr. Diener said the humidity was likely to creep upward again today, but the temperatures, even downtown, probably won't reach 100.

Tomorrow, Baltimore again will sit beneath that elusive cool front, and it will begin to track showers and thunderstorms across the area in late afternoon -- a few hours before the All-Star Game.

The storms should be brief, powerful, and scattered across the region, Mr. Diener said. Whether they disrupt the game depends on the precise alignment of the front.

The pattern will continue through the week, with late afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms gradually lowering daytime highs toward 90 degrees.

Finally, Mr. Diener said, by late Thursday or Friday a "defined cold front" will move through with cooler, drier air and "push that Bermuda high well offshore, and the heat wave we've had will have been pushed out of the area."

At the All-Star Street Fest, on Camden Street, Darrell Strong, 28, found relief from the heat as he poured lemonade to sell at his sister's vending stand.

"I drink a lot of water, with a little fruit squeezed in," said Mr. Strong, of Marlton, N.J. "That and the fact that I dump a lot of water on my head."

At Franklin Square Hospital yesterday, Dr. Kathryn Yamamoto said heat was a factor in the treatment of at least five patients in the emergency room -- two of them suffering from heat exhaustion.

"We've had a guy who went out jogging and couldn't figure out why he keeled over," said Dr. Yamamoto, noting that elderly people and those with heart or lung conditions are particularly vulnerable. "Many are cases where existing problems have been compounded by the heat."

Dr. Gary Green, in the Johns Hopkins Hospital emergency room, said that as many as 10 patients treated yesterday had heat-related problems.

The doctors offered some obvious advice: Stay in cool places as much as possible and drink lots of water.

But for many, ice cream was the answer -- if only a temporary one.

"We've been very busy," said Ashley Murphy, an employee at a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream Store at 4800 Roland Ave. in North Baltimore.

Ice companies also have been hustling to fill customer demands. Gloria Watkins, co-owner of A-1 Emergency Ice and Watkins Ice Co., said business hasn't been this brisk in three years.

"All customers want to know is 'Can we get it?' " Ms. Watkins said, "or 'how soon can we get it?' "

In Baltimore, as temperatures soared, children and city workers yesterday played another game of cat-and-mouse -- the former opening fire hydrants to play in the cool water, the latter closing them.

But for some people -- participants along the route of the All-Star weekend 5K race -- the city Fire Department gave in to the elements, ratcheting open three hydrants along the route through South Baltimore.

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