Heat relief rides on shifting winds

July 19, 2006|By DENNIS O'BRIEN | DENNIS O'BRIEN,SUN REPORTER

Take heart: Cooler air is expected today.

Relief from the searing heat that has blanketed Maryland and much of the nation for the past few days is due to arrive by way of a Great Lakes air mass and a change in wind direction, said meteorologist Jeff Warner of the Penn State Weather Communications Group.

The cooler air, and shifting of winds so they blow out of the east, will drop temperatures into the upper 80s and low 90s today, which is about normal for this time of year, he said. Winds from the east usually mean cooler air this time of year, he said.

"It certainly is not going to be cold by any means," Warner said. "I don't want to give you that impression. But it shouldn't be as hot as it's been."

Yesterday's high hit 98 about 2 p.m. at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, short of the 102-degree record for the date set in 1887.

In Baltimore, a Code Red alert was declared for the second straight day. And with four consecutive days in the 90s, officials were concerned that a health crisis could be imminent.

The humidity sent the heat index up to 106 degrees -- and that was hot enough for Jose Hernandez, a 56-year-old laborer and native of Cuba, who sought comfort in the shade of a small tree in the 200 block of S. Broadway. He said he had never felt anything like yesterday's heat. Even in Cuba, ocean breezes usually cool the island.

Nationally, at least five deaths have been blamed on a sweltering, cross-country heat wave. Meteorologists say part of the blame lies with a polar jet stream parked above the Canadian border, keeping cooler air far to the north.

In Maryland, there have been nine heat-related deaths so far this summer, three of them since Friday, according to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

A 54-year-old Calvert County man found in his home died Friday and two other men died Sunday: a 60-year-old Carroll County man found outside his home and a 73-year-old Prince George's County man found by his wife in his car at a shopping center, said John Hammond, a state health spokesman.

At least four Baltimore residents with heatstroke were rushed to hospitals Monday, but dozens of other people were hospitalized with health conditions exacerbated by the heat, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the city health commissioner.

"No matter how many people we're saying are dying of heatstroke, we have to look at the whole picture. How many elderly and chronically ill people are dying from heat-related problems?" Sharfstein said.

More than 500 people have visited the city's cooling centers since Monday to relax in the air conditioning, drink ice water or inquire about energy assistance programs, deputy housing commissioner Reggie Scriber said.

At the Westminster House seniors high-rise in the Mount Vernon section, residents were helped to the cooler lobby and offered seats in air-conditioned MTA buses brought to the site after the building's cooling system broke and water stopped running. The problems were reported fixed by early afternoon.

Elsewhere in the metropolitan area, three people were admitted to hospitals in Baltimore County, officials said. In Harford County, more than 10 patients with heat-related problems went to the Upper Chesapeake Health Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, said Jan Emerick, a spokeswoman for Upper Chesapeake Health, which runs both.

Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster had admitted one patient for heat-related illness, said a spokeswoman.

dennis.obrien@baltsun.com

Sun reporters Josh Mitchell, Anica Butler, Mary Gail Hare, Larry Carson, Gina Davis and Julie Scharper, along with the Associated Press, contributed to this article.

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