Heat wave Day Five, and no relief until Sunday

Swelter exacts toll on people, farms, fish

July 08, 1999|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

Celebrating his birthday yesterday as Maryland sweated through Day Five of the early summer heat wave, 34-year-old Van Wallace used a simple formula to stay cool as a cucumber on the streets of West Baltimore.

1. Fill plastic bag with ice. 2. Apply bag to top of head. 3. Repeat.

Keeping his bald head cool, explained Wallace as he hung out near the corner of Pulaski Street and Ridgehill Avenue, takes care of the whole body.

A cold front drifting southeast from the Canadian plains is expected to take care of Maryland by Sunday, returning temperatures to the mid-to-upper 80s -- average for this time of year and a good dozen degrees cooler than the record heat that has fried the state since the July Fourth holiday weekend.

According to the National Weather Service, hot and humid weather will continue today through the end of the week. Forecasters are calling for highs in the low 90s with no chance of thunderstorms until Saturday. Temperatures at night should be close to 70 in Baltimore and in the mid-60s around the metro area.

The weather service reported a high of 95 degrees at 5: 25 p.m. yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, four points short of the record set in 1993. The mercury hit 94 degrees at the Inner Harbor just before the evening rush hour.

The suffocating heat has led to 23 deaths on the East Coast and in the Midwest. Although no heat-related deaths have been reported in Maryland, the weather continued to exact a toll on the old and sick, and the state's agriculture, fish and poultry industries.

At Maryland Community Kitchen -- formerly the AIDS support group known as Moveable Feast -- the call went out for donations of bottled water. "We need to replenish our supply of bottled water and fruit juice," said executive director Jim Williams. "We're out."

To help the Baltimore-based group care for patients throughout the metro area, call 410-243-4604.

Yesterday, the Maryland Department of Environment issued a statewide drought warning and advised that chronic dry conditions could lead to severe water supply problems. Precipitation across the state has been below normal for six months, with the south and central areas of the state a foot below normal rainfall.

Officials are asking citizens to tighten dripping faucets, turn off water when brushing teeth, take shorter showers, use washing machines and dishwashers for full loads and curtail outdoor water use.

On the Delmarva Peninsula, more than 30,000 chickens have died in the heat since last week. Allen Family Foods Inc., a Seaford, Del.-based company, lost 33,000 birds between Saturday and Monday, according to a company official who could not recall such a spell of extreme heat in the past decade.

Salisbury-based Perdue Farms Inc., which bills itself as the third-largest poultry producer in the United States, said it had not tallied its losses. Grower Dwaine Bradley of Vienna in Dorchester County said he lost 1,000 of 42,000 broiler chickens on Monday.

Corn is entering a critical stage, in which the heat is exacerbating the drought conditions. The plants are beginning to tassel, and then must be pollinated if they are to develop kernels. The process fails during drought.

"When you have the hottest weather you could ever possibly have, on top of the [lack of] rain, it just makes the situation worse," said Bryan Butler, an extension agent in Carroll County.

In several creeks and coves off Middle River in Baltimore County, state environmental workers discovered yesterday thousands of yellow perch killed because of extremely high water temperatures.

"More fish will die until this weather breaks," said Quentin Banks, Maryland Department of Environment spokesman. "The water temperature in some of the more shallow sections of the creeks was 90 degrees Fahrenheit." He added that other factors probably contributing to the kills were changes in salinity and dissolved oxygen.

Staff writers Anne Haddad, Jamie Stiehm, Joe Nawrozki and Gerard Shields, and the

Associated Press contributed to this article.

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