Wind storm offers only temporary relief

July 17, 1995|By Howard Libit and Carol L. Bowers | Howard Libit and Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writers

Summer's first oppressive heat wave lost its blistering edge yesterday after an overnight wind storm swept across Maryland, downing trees and power lines.

The high temperature at Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday was 10 degrees below Saturday's record 102, and readings in the hot-but-bearable 90s were expected through midweek.

"It's still pretty uncomfortable," said Jose Marrero, a National Weather Service forecaster at BWI. "But when do we ever get a break in this area in July and August?"

Baltimore police discovered what may have been the city's first heat-related death yesterday afternoon. An autopsy is scheduled for today on Robert Podowski, a 39-year-old double-amputee found dead in the van in which he had been living near 26th Street and Hampden Avenue.

The "heat index" at BWI yesterday reached a high of 107 degrees -- a distinct improvement from Saturday's 124. The index indicates the combined effect of the temperature and humidity -- in short, how it felt.

For the 70,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers who lost power at some point because of storm damage or electrical circuits overloaded by air-conditioning demands, it felt pretty bad.

Many of the power failures were caused by the windstorm.

Gusts exceeding 60 mph and three-quarter-inch hailstones were reported in Frederick County's Middletown at 1:20 a.m. yesterday.

In Baltimore, the wind bent and broke tree limbs, and blew up a dust storm of dirt, grit, trash and leaves about 2 a.m. Tiny cyclone-like swirls skipped across many sidewalks and streets, scattering the debris.

But the storm had only a minimal effect on the heat because it brought little or no rain, Mr. Marrero said.

"It brought down the temperature a few degrees, but a few hours later it was back up again," he said. "It didn't help as much as a good thunderstorm would have."

By late last night, BGE was trying to restore power to the last 1,553 customers still in the dark -- about half in the city, and 744 in Howard County whose electricity was interrupted between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Peak electric demand reached 5,775 megawatts at 5 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, just short of the record of 5,910 megawatts set July 23, 1991, after several days of 100-degree temperatures.

"We're fortunate in a way that the heat wave is striking on a weekend because our business and industrial customers are not using their normal amount of electricity," spokesman Karl Neddenien said. "We have enough generating capacity running, and in reserve, to easily handle the demands of the next several days as it starts to cool down."

Yesterday marked the end of four straight days of "code red" warnings from the state Department of the Environment about unhealthy air quality. The state described yesterday as a "code yellow" -- or moderate air quality -- day and issued a "code orange" warning for today, predicting the approach of unhealthy pollution levels.

Today's forecast calls for another high in the low 90s, as the Baltimore area settles in for at least three days with slightly above-normal temperatures, Mr. Marrero said. The normal high for mid-July is 88 degrees.

At the Baltimore Zoo, the weekend heat wave didn't just send visitors scrambling for water.

"For the first time in three years our female rhino, Daisy, went into the pool," said mammals curator Sandy Kempske. "We looked on that as an indication that we'd reached a new high point, or low point, depending on your point of view."

Until Saturday, the 27-year-old rhino had been a stick-in-the-mud.

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