Region's heat contributes to two more fatalities

Deaths of city men bring toll to 31 this season

July 30, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs, Frank D. Roylance and Laurie Willis | Johnathon E. Briggs, Frank D. Roylance and Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

The heat and humidity smothering the region sickened people and drove others into air-conditioned safety yesterday as forecasters predicted at least another day of sizzling weather.

Maryland health officials confirmed yesterday two heat-related deaths, both Baltimore men, bringing to 31 the number of heat-related fatalities this season.

The bodies of Albert C. Slawski, 71, and John Edward Jones, whose age was unavailable, were found in decomposed states inside dwellings with high temperatures, officials said. It was unclear when they died, and officials did not release their addresses.

The temperature was 96.5 degrees inside the home where Jones was found and 87 degrees where Slawski was discovered, said J.B. Hanson, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Yesterday's high was 97 degrees at the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore and 95 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

It might not get that hot inside the Canton home of Josephine Gangi, 80, but her son, John Bialozewski, 59, wasn't taking any chances yesterday.

He stopped by the Hatton Senior Center in Canton about 3 p.m. to take his mother to his home for the night. Her house lacks adequate air conditioning.

"I just call her every time it gets really hot," said Bialozewski, who lives in Cockeysville. "Sometimes she comes, and sometimes she does not."

Doris Mrowca, 79, who was at the Hatton center yesterday, said she thinks temperatures this summer have been higher than in recent years.

"It's been horrible, yes," Mrowca said. "It's never been like this, 90, 90, 90, 90, 90," she said, gesturing with her hands. "We usually have a break and then it'll shower and cool off a bit."

Some hospital emergency rooms in Baltimore and Harford counties reported seeing patients with heat-related illnesses or complaints.

By 3 p.m., Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson had treated two people with asthma for breathing problems related to the weather and a roofer who had experienced heat cramps while working, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace reported treating at least a dozen patients, the majority of them senior citizens who had experienced respiratory symptoms.

The weather also caused some school cancellations.

Baltimore County officials said they would cancel summer school classes today at four elementary schools because of the extreme heat and humidity.

The four schools - Bedford, Perry Hall, Timonium and Victory Villa - enroll about 780 pupils.

The steamy weather comes from the Great Plains states. It moved in over the weekend after booting out a high-pressure system in Eastern Canada that had cooled the region last week with winds off the ocean, said meteorologist Chris Johannesson of the Penn State Weather Communications Group.

"That high-pressure system has taken a hike," he said. "The winds turned around from the west and brought in this warm air that's been sitting just on the other side of the [Appalachian] mountains, and it warmed up quite dramatically.

"What's adding a little bit of punch to this heat wave is there are some brisker winds from the west coming off the Appalachians west of the big metropolitan region."

As the winds cross the mountains and roll down the eastern slopes, the air is compressed and heated, Johannesson said, "which is providing a little extra heat to this air mass."

The 90-degree air and high humidity are expected to persist through today, with only the possibility of a few thunderstorms to relieve the sizzle.

A passing frontal system should ease the high humidity by tomorrow, Johannesson said, "but the generally hot weather will persist for much of the week." Highs will remain in the lower 90s.

This year, BWI has recorded 28 days with highs of 90 degrees or more. They included two days in April, one in May, eight last month and 17 this month.

Only one day - July 4 - has reached 100 degrees.

There have been three long stretches of 90-degree heat - two five-day bouts from June 23 to 27 and from July 1 to 5 and a six-day heat wave from July 15 to 20. Ten of the past 15 days at BWI have reached 90 degrees or more.

Coping with the heat has been complicated by the fact that Central Maryland remains in the grip of a drought that is now 11 months old. Most of the state's population is living under mandatory or voluntary watering bans.

Since Sept. 1, BWI has received just 60 percent of its normal rainfall, leaving a deficit that has topped 13 inches. Only one month - April - has produced above-normal precipitation.

Frederick, Carroll and Harford counties, as well as western Howard, northern Montgomery and northern Baltimore counties remain in drought emergencies, with mandatory watering restrictions.

Ground-water levels in the region were at or near record lows yesterday. Some wells were lower than during the severe droughts of 1999 and the 1960s, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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