El Nino turns up the heat to 91, takes off some shirts Men in shorts set up Christmas displays

October 07, 1997|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Chris Ewell and Erin Texeira contributed to this article.

In what is believed to be the effects of El Nino, a mass of hot air from the South sent temperatures soaring yesterday, prompting people to shed shirts, dine outdoors and scramble for air conditioning to escape the July-like heat.

The temperature hit 89 yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, falling short of a record, but reaching well above the 71-degree high normally recorded for yesterday's date, according to the National Weather Service.

John Newkirk, a National Weather Service spokesman, blamed the sauna-like conditions on an air mass from the South shipped into Maryland by El Nino, the climatic pattern blamed for floods and droughts worldwide after beginning with a pulse of sun-warmed water in the equatorial Pacific.

"It would take a complicated study to chart it all out, but I'm sure that El Nino has something to do with what we're experiencing," Newkirk said.

Newkirk said that an air mass from Pennsylvania will cool things off today, with sunshine and temperatures expected to reach the low 80s.

He said that yesterday's heat fell short of the record at BWI set for yesterday's date in 1941, when it hit 95 degrees.

Temperatures at the Custom House in Baltimore, considered to be a "heat island" by forecasters because of its blacktopped surroundings, hit 91 degrees, according to the weather service.

But yesterday's heat was enough to inspire sun worshipers to make appearances at the area's parks and schools.

At the Johns Hopkins University campus, some students wore swimsuits, shorts and tank tops, while others wore no shirts at all.

Like home in Brazil

"I'm from Brazil, so this almost feels like home," said Mike Derham, a 19-year-old Hopkins sophomore, who took off his shirt to bask in the sun.

Nolly Portillo, another sophomore, said the weather prompted her to forsake the library for the outdoors so that she could study and enjoy the weather.

"I'm not a big fan of the winter, and I love the hot weather because you can dress freely," said Portillo, of New York City.

The heat also inspired some among yesterday's lunch crowd to dine outdoors at the Inner Harbor, where a teen-age street vendor was selling Orioles merchandise barefoot.

"I just thought I'd let my tootsies breathe, so I don't stink up my shoes," said Ryan Passwater, 18, of Atlantic City.

At The Mall in Columbia, the heat did not prevent planning for the Christmas shopping season.

A 12-member maintenance crew -- some wearing shorts and sunglasses -- began the two-week process yesterday of hanging some 250,000 lights on the 22 Bradford pear trees in front of the mall along Little Patuxent and Governor Warfield parkways.

The heat also prompted a surge in demand for electrical power.

Nancy Caplan, a BGE spokeswoman, said the demand for electricity was up roughly 10 percent because of the power used by home and office air conditioners.

She said that peak consumption levels rose dramatically, with the amount of electricity being used at peak demand levels yesterday afternoon jumping to 4,200 megawatts.

The peak demand is normally 3,200 megawatts on a typical October day, she said.

Still, Caplan said, the demand could have been higher.

"A lot of people have taken their window air conditioners out of the windows, or just turned off their air-conditioning systems for the season," she said.

3 days of unusual warmth

Newkirk said that yesterday was the third straight day of unseasonably warm weather.

Saturday's high of 83 degrees was 11 degrees above normal, and Sunday's high of 86 was 15 degrees above normal for that date, according to forecasters.

Agricultural officials said that the warm spell will help Maryland's grain crops.

David Martin, agricultural agent in Baltimore County for the Maryland Cooperative Extension Service, said that the warm weather will help dry out the field corn that must be drained of its moisture before it can be harvested in the next few weeks.

The warm weather also will help ensure healthy crops of rye, barley and winter wheat that has just been planted and will be harvested in June and July, he said.

"The warm weather helps the grain crops take root a little better, and grow a little faster," he said.

But forecasters said that the warm weather is also a sign that El Nino is going to bring Maryland a harsh winter.

Newkirk said that El Nino, which is being blamed for droughts and floods throughout the world, is likely to bring a major snowstorm into the region this winter.

The last El Nino, a minor one, was in 1993, the year that Maryland was hit with a blizzard, Newkirk said.

"Every time we've had an El Nino, we've had a major snowstorm," Newkirk said.

Pub Date: 10/07/97

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