Thunderstorms bring relief from heat to state

Hot weather contributes to 5 more deaths

toll at 36

August 06, 2002|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

Nine consecutive days of oppressive 90-plus-degree heat and sweltering humidity came to an end last night as scattered thunderstorms rolled across the Baltimore region.

Before the break in the weather, state health officials updated the number of confirmed heat-related deaths by five, bringing to 36 the number of deaths this season - more than double the 15 who perished during last year's relatively mild summer.

The state medical examiner's office has not issued reports for anyone who died since Wednesday. However, more heat-related fatalities might be listed once lab tests are completed, said J.B. Hanson, a state health department spokesman.

Four of the deaths occurred between July 29 and Wednesday. Two were elderly Baltimore residents - an 81-year-old woman who had a heart ailment and a 73-year-old man who suffered from hypertension - found in homes where the inside temperature exceeded 85 degrees.

Two others were younger: a 31-year-old man from Prince George's County who had a seizure disorder, and a 48-year-old Talbot County man whose condition was complicated by heart disease and alcoholism. The other victim was a 51-year-old city man who died in late June, but for whom an official cause of death had awaited lab results.

In virtually all of the deaths attributed primarily to the summer heat, the medical examiner found that the victims suffered from underlying ailments that made them particularly vulnerable.

Ozone levels in the Baltimore area reached unhealthful levels by midafternoon yesterday in the Davidsonville area of Anne Arundel County and in the Millington area of Kent County. According to the Maryland Department of the Environment, yesterday was the 12th code red day of this year - two more than last year. Air quality was expected to be good today, thanks to cooler air in the region.

Yesterday, as a cold front descended on the region, temperatures dropped by 10 degrees at the Inner Harbor - from a high of 94 degrees at 2:54 p.m. to 84 degrees three hours later. At Baltimore-Washington International Airport, the temperatures cooled to 82 degrees at 4:54 p.m. from a midafternoon high of 93 degrees as a light rain fell.

At 5:30 p.m., the National Weather Service had placed much of the state under a severe thunderstorm warning as a line of storms moved southeast through northern Virginia and the Washington metropolitan area. An unstable air mass generated small hail in Montgomery County and gusty winds - up to 60 mph - that broke off tree branches in parts of Central Maryland and southern Frederick County, said Christopher Strong, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

After restoring service to customers left without power after a weekend of severe thunderstorms, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews worked last night to restore power to about 2,000 customers scattered throughout Central Maryland who were blacked out by yesterday's storms, said spokeswoman Sharon Sasada. More than 150,000 BGE customers lost electricity during the weekend from the storms - some more than once.

The forecast calls for mostly sunny conditions with highs in the low to mid-80s for the remainder of the week.

Sun staff writers Jonathan Bor and Michael Stroh contributed to this article.

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