Summerlike sizzle in store

High temperature hits 97, lack of rain becomes worrisome

June 08, 1999|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Now THIS feels more like Baltimore.

Thermometers bubbled up to record 96 degrees at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport yesterday, while the humidity and air pollution made it seem a nasty chore just to breathe.

The season's first big heat forced city schools to close early and knocked out air conditioners across the region. There's worse in store today.

FOR THE RECORD - Because of incorrect information provided by the Associated Press and the National Weather Service, Monday's high temperature in Baltimore was erroneously reported in Tuesday's Sun as 97 degrees. The official high Monday was 96, according to the National Weather Service. The Sun regrets the errors.

Highs are likely to crowd 100 degrees, with no rain expected to cool the streets or ease the deepening drought.

"I'm feeling the heat from my toes to the top of my head," said Bonnie Thompson. She had just retreated to the air-conditioned comfort of Jo Anne Crummit's truck after a stint as a flag person on freshly rolled blacktop along Route 26 in Frederick County.

"We drink tons of water -- more water than you've ever seen in your lifetime," Crummit said. The blacktop was so hot -- 168 to 196 degrees after it was rolled -- that Thompson had to protect her face with a cardboard shield.

But as most of us sweltered, meteorologists shrugged.

"There's nothing out of the ordinary about all this," said John Billet, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sterling, Va. "It does get hot this time of year sometimes, especially when it's dry."

When there's been plenty of rain, the evaporation of soil moisture takes some heat out of the air, holding surface temperatures down a degree or two.

But stingy dribbles of rain since April have left the area bone dry. At BWI, there has been no rain for 14 days.

And there's none in sight.

"There are thunderstorms to our northwest, but they're moving northeast across Pennsylvania," Billet said. "It looks like [the lack of rain] is going to continue at least until next week."

Blame the Bermuda high, a high-pressure system parked over the Carolina coast. "It's allowing a lot of nice, hot air to come from Southwest across the area," Billet said.

Ground-level ozone reached "code red" levels yesterday and was likely to do it again today, according to forecasters at the University of Maryland. The smog forms from chemical emissions from cars, lawn mowers, smokestacks and paint fumes mixing together in hot weather under bright sunlight.

Code red conditions can be threatening to the elderly and people with heart conditions or chronic breathing problems such as asthma and emphysema.

It can also cause healthy people's eyes to water and throats to catch.

A weak cold front is expected to cross the region tomorrow night, Billet said. "That may cool it off, back to the upper 80s or low 90s, for the latter part of the week."

For the sleepless, overnight lows will drop to a more comfortable 65 degrees.

Air-conditioning repair crews were running hard. But customers who neglected to check their systems before the season's first big challenge may have to wait.

"We have seven service technicians on the road, running six, seven, eight calls a day," said Michael White, division manager at Caton's Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning in Catonsville. "We're scheduled for the end of the week already."

The air conditioning quit yesterday at Ann's Dari Creme in Glen Burnie, making things worse for the ice cream machines. "We're dealing with it," said the operator, who didn't want his name used.

Inspector Michael Maybin, a spokesman for the Baltimore Fire Department, reported no unusual increase in heat-related calls and no deaths related to the weather. The broken air conditioners reported last week in 10 of Baltimore's 18 ambulances have been repaired, Maybin said.

Schools are closed early

Baltimore public school students were sent home at 12: 30 p.m. yesterday. Temperatures reached 94 degrees at 10: 15 a.m., triggering a policy that closes the schools when temperatures top 90 degrees by 11 a.m.

Only half of the city's 180 schools are air-conditioned.

Donyae Holland, 10, happily traded Harlem Park Middle School for an open fire hydrant in her West Baltimore neighborhood. "It felt like I was out in the desert in the classrooms," she said. "Now it feels like I'm in a swimming pool. I'd rather be here."

In eastern Baltimore County, Dundalk's Logan Elementary School has air conditioning, but it wasn't working yesterday. As service technicians struggled to fix it, students and teachers coped in classrooms with windows that don't open.

They drank extra water and turned off the lights. It's the last week of school in the county.

"We almost made it," said Principal Pat Lawton.

Yesterday's high at BWI passed the previous record of 95 for the date, set just five years ago. Today's record -- also 95 degrees, set in 1984 -- likewise seemed fated to tumble. Normal highs for this time of year at BWI are in the low 80s.

With summer officially 13 days away, severe drought persists from Allegany County in the west to the Upper Eastern Shore, with moderate drought across the rest of the Delmarva peninsula.

Typically, May brings 3.72 inches of rain to BWI. Only 1.72 inches fell this year -- nearly all of it May 22-24. June averages 3.67 inches. So far, there's been no rain.

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