It's hot, it's sticky, and it's not going away

July 19, 2005|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

After coping nearly all of her 81 years without an air conditioner, Dotty Rock knows that surviving a Baltimore summer requires a certain routine.

Before bedtime, the box fan at the base of her bed must be positioned just so, circulating the maximum amount of air. She leaves only for vital appointments, certain that her basement apartment in Middle River is cooler than the stifling outdoors.

On Mondays, after singing practice at the John Booth Senior Center in Highlandtown, the best way to beat the heat is with an ice-cold can of Milwaukee's Best. "And it only costs a dollar," Rock said.

The temperature reached 90 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and 93 downtown yesterday, and the humidity made it feel more like 100. During the hottest midday hours, Baltimoreans seemed to move in slow motion, knowing any excess movement would multiply their suffering.

The weather is expected to remain uncomfortably hot and sticky through the week, with highs in the 90s.

Statistically, this is the hottest week of the year. The long-term average of daily highs for the city peaks at 88 between July 16 and 25, according to the National Weather Service.

Agencies and individuals around the city tried to offer relief. The city parks and recreation department announced that through Friday, it would cut fees for public pools in half, to 75 cents for park pools and to 50 cents for other outdoor pools.

The city's Commission on Aging reminded residents that senior centers are available as "cooling stations," in addition to four other locations.

At the Inner Harbor, a group of teenage girls, sleeves rolled up and sweat beading on their foreheads, spent the afternoon handing out free bottles of water in front of the National Aquarium. From Mohn's Hill E.C. Church in Reading, Pa., they are in town for a weeklong service program.

In Highlandtown yesterday, as passers-by complained of the heat, Rock was determined to see the lighter, cooler side, despite the certainty that a stuffy apartment awaited her.

She left the senior center and walked toward My Cousin's Place, a Highlandtown fixture on East Lombard Street, her two best buddies in tow. The three are Monday regulars at the bar, known for 45 years for its billiards leagues and free St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage.

Owner Vernon Oliver said the women are famous for bursting into song on cue. Rock said their songs sometimes elicit free drinks from a fellow at the bar, and she keeps a toy microphone in her handbag for such occasions.

"Her favorite is `A Good Man is Hard to Find,'" Eileen Haskell, 81, of Highlandtown said of her friend Rock.

"Because it's true," Rock said.

The third member of the group, Catherine McGurrin, 85, ordered a white zinfandel, and the friends chatted with a favorite bartender, content to pass the day's most oppressive hours in air-conditioned comfort.

"This is where to be when it's hot," McGurrin said.

Earlier, at the John Booth Senior Center, the friends joined fellow singers in a conversation that centered on two things: places that have air conditioning and places that don't.

Pat Blake, 64, of Pigtown was pleased to report to friends that her air conditioner, which was on the fritz two weeks ago, had been quickly fixed.

"I have an end house, so the sun was beaming in on the back, the front and the side; it was miserable," she said. "I took quite a few showers. I'm afraid to look at the water bill."

Josie Schwartz's West Baltimore church installed air conditioning a couple of months ago, to the relief of parishioners who had been constantly fanning themselves.

"We just got it, and I've been a member 45 years," said Schwartz, 73. "No one should be without air conditioning in this heat. It's terrible."

BWI has recorded 11 days this year with highs of at least 90. That matches the total for all of last summer and is approaching the total of 14 in 2003.

But it is a far cry from the heat that baked the region in 2002. That year there were 48 days of 90-plus temperatures. It began with two days in April and included 11 consecutive days in the 90s in August.

Temperatures in the upper 90s and topping 100 have been scarce in recent years.

Even so, the consensus around the senior center was that yesterday was bad enough.

"It's hot, sticky stuff," McGurrin said.

Sun staff writers Frank D. Roylance and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

Tips for the heat

Don't wait until you are thirsty to drink. Drink more liquids regardless of your activity level. Avoid very cold drinks, which can cause stomach cramps. Liquids that contain caffeine, alcohol or large amounts of sugar can cause you to lose more body fluid.

Remain indoors in the heat of the day.

Wear sunscreen that filters UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

Wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing, and a hat.

Visit older adults at least twice a day and watch for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, including changes in mental status, nausea, lightheadedness and high body temperature with cool and clammy skin.

Take a cool bath, shower or sponge bath.

Avoid strenuous activities.

Never leave pets or small children in closed, parked vehicles.

Provide plenty of water and appropriate shelter to pets.

For relief in Baltimore, visit any of the city's senior centers or its four "cooling centers" at:

Eastern Community Action Center, 1400 Orleans St.

Northern Community Action Center, 5225 York Road

Southern Community Action Center, 606 Cherry Hill Road (inside the shopping center, second floor)

Northwest Community Action Center, 3314 Ayrdale Ave.

Sources: Baltimore City Acting Health Commissioner Francine Childs, Baltimore City Commission on Aging & Retirement Education, Baltimore County Office of Communications

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