City high of 102 marks heat wave's eighth day

Relief due for weekend

record power use is reported again

August 04, 2006|By FRANK D. ROYLANCE | FRANK D. ROYLANCE,SUN REPORTER

Marylanders sweated and gasped their way through another scorcher yesterday, finding cool air wherever they could - from the frozen vegetable section to the library. And they strained the regional power grid as they struggled to stay cool on the eighth straight day of 90- to 100-degree weather.

There were no new reports of heat-related deaths. But the temperature soared to 102 degrees in downtown Baltimore, topping the century mark for the third day in a row. It was 100 at the airport for the second time in three days, tying the record for the date set in 1931.

The suffocating heat and humidity pushed power consumption by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers to a new daily record, the third this week.

The strain on the regional power grid looked so severe yesterday that power managers issued a warning to utilities in the Mid-Atlantic region that they might have to order afternoon voltage reductions.

But it never came to that - power managers credited the advance of cooler weather across the upper Midwest, which took some pressure off the western side of the regional grid.

Forecasters said the same weather should deliver some relief for Marylanders today. But it won't feel like much.

"We're going for highs in the mid-90s, a few degrees lower than the past couple of days ... but it's still pretty toasty out there," said meteorologist Brandon Peloquin at the National Weather Service forecast office at Sterling, Va.

More noticeable relief is due as more "cool" air arrives for the weekend. Highs tomorrow and Sunday are expected to hold in the upper 80s - the first sub-90 days in Baltimore since July 26.

Meanwhile, Marylanders holed up yesterday anywhere they could find air conditioning and shelter from the relentless sunshine.

At the Stop Shop Save supermarket on Pennsylvania Avenue, Ruth Ligon, 67, lingered by the frozen vegetables.

"I came over here just to cool off," she said. Although her apartment in Zion Towers is air-conditioned, she found the freezer case considerably cooler.

Ligon said it has been a while since she experienced such heat. "It was real hot like this a long, long, long time ago," she said.

Yesterday was the hottest day of a hot week, the third straight 100-degree day at the Maryland Science Center. The airport hit 100 Tuesday and yesterday, but only 99 on Wednesday.

The last time Baltimore had three successive days of 100- degree weather was July 2-4, 1966, the National Weather Service says. But those temperatures were at the airport, not downtown.

After some relatively cool weekend weather, forecasters said, the region is likely to return to the low 90s Monday, before a new front brings highs in the 80s the rest of next week.

Instruments at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport have recorded 29 days with highs of 90 degrees or more this summer.

That's as many as the airport recorded all of last year.

Mercifully, the quality of the air during the weeklong heat wave has not matched the nastiness of the temperature. Generally, it has remained in the "good" to "moderate" range since the really hot weather began last week.

Monday, the ozone levels in eastern Baltimore County and parts of Calvert County slipped into the "Code Orange" range - meaning the air was "unhealthy for sensitive groups." It happened again yesterday, on the Eastern Shore.

"Fifteen or 20 years ago, every time we had a day in excess of 90 degrees we might get a Code Red day," said Reider White, public and legislative affairs officer for the Air and Radiation Group at the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"Now, we may pop an Orange, but there are fewer Code Reds - maybe every fifth day [in the 90s]," he said. "To us, it's a good measure that the air is getting better."

Marylanders with air conditioners have been running them hard to stay cool. BGE customers drew 7,202 megawatts of power yesterday, up a half-percent from Wednesday's record. It was the utility's third record day this week, said spokeswoman Linda Foy.

Even so, she said, there's preliminary evidence that customers are trying to conserve. Although temperatures were sharply higher in July this year than last, BGE customers drew only 6 percent more power, Foy said.

Part of the answer may be the 15 percent jump in electric rates that began July 1, she said. "But we have been asking customers and encouraging them to conserve, first in light of the rate increase, and recently because of the temperatures," Foy said. "It appears our customers are listening."

Mark Bryant, 45, of Baltimore would love to have an air conditioner he can turn down. But he drives a truck without AC during the day, and his landlord won't let him run a unit in his apartment.

Yesterday, he walked into the cooling center at the Community Action Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, asked for a bottle of water and sank into a chair.

"I used to say, `I don't care how hot it gets, I just hate winter,'" Bryant said. "Well, I don't say that no more. Not after this week."

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