We were sailing down the Jones Falls Expressway as the big electrical sign on the Pepsi Cola plant registered 98 degrees.
"How long can this mess last?" I muttered to myself this past Friday evening as Baltimore's longest-ever 90-degree broiler spell rolled into its fourth week.
Then, less than 24 hours later, came the answer -- the first wave of the cooling rains of August. The summer of 95's heat spell was broken after 25 days of weather purgatory.
The black clouds rolled in from the western skies, the heavens opened, and the steam seemed to ooze out of the ground. By yesterday morning we were enjoying a comparatively cool rain, the kind of weather that actually gets you talking about a wickedly damp day in November.
That first August drenching is one of Baltimore's most overlooked weather patterns. It doesn't get the recognition of crisp October mornings, December's first snow, a February cold and wet bummer, a March mini-tornado, an April shower, a perfect May afternoon or a dreadful July scorcher, the type that we've just endured.
No, the first good and cooling rain of August is one of those overlooked conditions.
Each year we usually get some sort of a heat spell that is broken up by decisive and penetrating rains.
To my way of assessing local weather, it is these rains that signal a real change in the seasons.
The August rains are not an anonymous and forgotten condition if you are on vacation.
Who hasn't written a three- or four-figure check for a vacation rental during the eighth month only to have the cooling rains chill out a good time?
The cooling rains of August are often part of the tail end of a hurricane or tropical storm. This was the case this past weekend as the remains of Erin passed through Maryland.
It was either 1953 or 1954 when I recall my first brush with one of these August weather specials. My family had rented a charming seaside cottage at Dewey Beach, Del. It was a little brown shingle affair perched on a sand dune that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. In those days, we got out of Baltimore for a couple months at a time.
The cottage was built to catch the breezes so that when the wind blew, every floorboard shook. To a child who had yet to begin kindergarten, any thunderstorm not far from the breakers was a white-knuckle experience.
One August the winds and rain moved in. The house leaked here and there, but then it always did. In the 1950s at the ocean, there was no such thing as a seasonal telephone. If someone died or took sick back in Baltimore, the messenger brought a telegram. Other than letters, or an occasional telephone call to distant Baltimore, there was little communication with the outside world.
You were not being bombarded with Weather Channel reports, forecasts and updates because there was no television there.
It rained and rained some more during that Dewey Beach August, then the state trooper's car appeared outside on Rodney Road.
He knocked on the doors of the houses that directly faced the ocean. He summoned our neighbors, the Hopkins family, then the Baldwins, the Scarletts and the Coadys.
Then the man in the big hat told us to move on to higher land. We did as told and our little beach colony survived that August blow. When the really big one hit in March 1962, all our neighbors' homes disappeared into the Atlantic.
And so I took it seriously when the news reports of Hurricane Emily rolled in a few summers ago. I was six stories up in an ocean-front condominium. The windows were duct taped, all the porch furniture dragged inside. The Weather Channel was on for hours at a time.
Yet there was not a drop of rain. Finally we took off for a dinner with friends from Baltimore and did nothing but conjecture about the weather. During dessert, the state troopers came down the street and used bull horns to suggest that everyone near the ocean voluntarily evacuate.
It was vacation high drama. We fell asleep with the Weather Channel still on. Of course, we ignored the troopers' advice.
Then, at six in the morning, Mother Nature played an unexpected trick. Emily swept up the Atlantic Coast and made a sharp right turn off Virginia. It was all a weather hoax. No rain, no nothing. False alarm.