For Marylanders heading for the beaches, the mountains, the front stoop or the backyard barbecue on this Memorial Day weekend, warm, sunny skies and cool, pleasant nights mean the summer season has arrived and winter is but a distant memory.
The weekend marks the beginning of the weekly pilgrimage to Ocean City, with the requisite frolicking on the boardwalk and the ritual traffic backup at the Bay Bridge, and this year is no different. By 4: 15 p.m. yesterday, there was a traffic jam five miles long as weekend vacationers waited to pay their toll.
But the wonderful forecast had almost everyone, even the weatherman, in a good mood.
"This is a very sweet Memorial Day, weatherwise," said Andy Woodcock, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sterling, Va. "Break out the sunscreen."
High temperatures through Monday will bob into the upper 80s to near 90 degrees, with comfortable humidity, good sleeping weather and no mention of rain. Highs will be closer to 80 at Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland.
On the other hand, Woodcock said, if you jump into the water at Deep Creek Lake, Ocean City or your local pool, you'll be in for a chilling surprise.
"It's been a relatively cool spring, and the swimming pools are going to be kind of a shock." Ocean temperatures, too, remain sobering: 61 degrees in Lewes, Del. and 63 at Fenwick.
"There's going to be a lot of sitting in chairs this weekend," he said.
This fine holiday weather comes to us courtesy of a big ridge of high pressure parked over the East Coast, said Heidi Sonen, a meteorologist with the Penn State Weather Communications Group.
"This is something we expect at the end of June, not Memorial Day weekend," she said. "We could see record highs."
We might also be able to see the air.
The smog in the Baltimore area will reach unhealthy levels for the elderly and those with respiratory problems todayand tomorrow. The state Department of the Environment issued a code-orange smog watch for today, and forecasters at the University of Maryland's Department of Meteorology say those conditions will continue through the weekend.
Because as much as two-thirds of smog-causing ground-level ozone comes from passenger vehicles, lawn mowers, garden equipment and common household products, state officials recommend that residents limit driving as much as possible and wait until after dark to refuel their vehicles.
"People should limit their activities in the heat of the day," said Charles Piety, a University of Maryland air-quality forecaster. "Put off mowing the lawn or that backyard barbecue until later."
For many Marylanders, Memorial Day is a good excuse to get out of town, and thousands did so yesterday. At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, about 54,000 people boarded flights, about 13,000 more than on a normal day and about 8 percent more than last Memorial Day weekend, said Marilyn Corbett, an airport spokeswoman. Airport officials expected to handle about 222,000 people over the weekend and had to open two auxiliary parking lots to accommodate the traffic.
But the real holiday action every Memorial Day is on the road to Ocean City. Regulars have come to expect a long line at the Bay Bridge toll plaza, and this year the jam on U.S. 50 reached back to Ritchie Highway near Annapolis. Maryland Transportation Authority Officials estimate that 326,000 vehicles will travel over both spans of the bridge this weekend.
State officials have offered some relief to traffic-weary pilgrims. To help keep beach-going travelers aware of traffic flow over the Bay Bridge, the state has installed three new video cameras on the bridge to provide live images on an Internet site -- www.chart.state.md.us.
The video feeds will be available to area television stations for use during their regular newscasts and traffic updates, according to state officials.
One camera is on the west side of the Bay Bridge near the toll plaza and another is on the east side at the Route 8 overpass in Stevensville. A third camera is along U.S. 50 at the Route 2 interchange near Annapolis.
The images of traffic at the bridge will be provided to television stations and posted on the Web site during weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day, state officials said.
State highway officials also suspended all road work requiring lane closures along Maryland state highways from yesterday until 9 a.m. Tuesday to keep traffic flowing.
And for those restless children in the back of the car, the state's Department of Natural Resources is giving out copies of its "Bay Game" fun book, which has 24 pages of activities to keep the kids occupied. There's bingo, a word search, a crossword puzzle, a matching game, stickers and a special treat only a future bureaucrat could love: It points out Smart Growth areas families will pass on the way to the beach.
The books are available from toll collectors at the Bay Bridge and at Hardee's restaurants on the Eastern Shore.
At Ocean City, the resort looks on this holiday weekend as a combination of Opening Day and the coming of Saint Nick.
"Tonight is like Christmas Eve," said Jim Mathias, the enthusiastic mayor of Ocean City. "We go to bed tonight, we wake tomorrow and the people are here."
And Mathias is in midseason form as he throws his ceremonial first pitch.
"The beaches are as wide as they've ever been and we got a new boardwalk," he said. "There's plenty of room. Come on down to the ocean, hon!"
Sun staff writers Greg Garland and Joel McCord contributed to this article.
Pub Date: 5/29/99