Call it the bake that has been hard to shake: For the past two weeks, a withering spell of Arizona-like heat has made the Baltimore region feel as though it's been trapped in the crosshairs of Mother Nature's hair dryer.
Weather, in other words, made for dips in the pool, not walks in the park.
Marylanders basked in the blow of air conditioners, guzzled liters of water and lined up for ice cream and snow cones yesterday, seeking relief from the summer-like temperatures that have invaded spring.
This has already been one of the hottest Mays on record in Baltimore. Temperatures at Baltimore-Washington International Airport have averaged 69.2 degrees so far this month, making it the fourth-hottest May 1-23 since record-keeping began in 1871.
Only three dates this month have averaged cooler than normal, and 16 days - including yesterday - reached 80 degrees or higher.
Get used to it. Although the temperature might drop into the low 80s this week, the government is forecasting hotter-than-average weather from June through August for most of the United States north of Florida and east of the Mississippi River.
"We have a Bermuda high off the East Coast that has set up earlier in the year than usual," said meteorologist Brian Guyer of the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va. It's a typical summertime pattern that creates a clockwise circulation drawing warm, humid air into the region from the south.
"It's a really strong high pressure for this time of year," Guyer said. And it is preventing cool air to the north from moving down to relieve the heat.
Many were surprised by the hot weather. Even the leafy hollyhock, a staple of midsummer, was in full bloom yesterday in a downtown garden.
Baltimore school children were six degrees from going home early. City schools have a policy of releasing students if the temperature rises to 90 degrees by 11 a.m. But at that hour, it was 84, at least at the official weather service site at BWI.
Beads of sweat sprouted and rolled off brows at Baltimore's Inner Harbor as the temperature hit 92 degrees by 3 p.m. yesterday. Shorts and sleeveless tops were the uniform of the day there, and it seemed as if every other person was sipping something cold. By early afternoon, the concession stand at the Constellation was out of bottled water.
Good for business
Inside the Pratt Street Pavilion, Na Yi, the owner of Jasmine Smoothie World & Tea, welcomed the weather.
"Usually, I tell people, `Hello, try a smoothie.' When it's hot, I don't have to say anything," she said. "Over the weekend, people were waiting for a drink 10 to 15 minutes with no complaint."
Officer Neill Sewell, a member of a special Police Department unit that patrols the Inner Harbor on bicycles, was wearing a combination Cool Max sweatband and skullcap under his helmet in an effort to beat the heat. And his patrol partner, Sal Rivieri, seemed particularly annoyed by the weather.
"It's terrible," Rivieri said. "So far, I've gone through at least a gallon of water. Otherwise, you fall down."
The weather was almost as oppressive as midsummer, he said. "The worst is the vest," Rivieri added, creating a hollow sound by thumping the protective wear under his shirt. "It doesn't breathe at all. But it's a necessity."
Those further removed from the breezes of the Inner Harbor sought refuge in air-conditioned malls or indulged in ice cream.
`Next to the devil'
Tony Harrison Sr., 36, of Baltimore, a co-worker at the J&R Roofing Co. in Jessup, walked slowly away from a tanker filled with hot tar after a morning spent spreading the smelly, gooey stuff on the roof of The Mall at Columbia.
Harrison was wearing what appeared to be yesterday's fashion necessity: a wet towel draped over the head.
"It was as if I was working next to the devil - that's how hot it was," he said, smiling as he headed for lunch in the air-conditioned mall.
At Hoffman's Homemade Ice Cream store in Westminster, more than a dozen customers stood in line yesterday for orange sherbet, vanilla milkshakes and strawberry sundaes.
"It was hot, and ice cream came to mind," said Dawn Conrad, 26, who was sitting under a tree and finishing her vanilla milkshake with her children Michael, 3, and Sabryna, 7.
"I can't believe it's like this already. You think July or August, but it's not June yet," Conrad said. Hot days, though, mean brisk business for Jeff Hoffman, co-owner of the ice cream shop.
Clock moves ahead
"We've been pretty busy most every night," Hoffman said. "It's like the clock has moved ahead a month or two. We're not complaining."
Business was also brisk yesterday afternoon at Main Street Ice Cream in Annapolis, a shop near City Dock. "Last year, I remember we didn't pick up as fast at this time as we did now," said the assistant manager, who identified himself as Shams.
Today's forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with a high in the upper 80s. And, of course, more ice cream.
Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, Larry Carson, Hanah Cho, Sara Neufeld, Andrea F. Siegel, Eric Siegel and Patrick Tyler contributed to this article.