Heat losing its grip

Record highs toast Md., but expect a drastic change

October 09, 2007|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN REPORTER

It was 91 degrees yesterday, the hottest October day Baltimore has seen since ... well, the day before yesterday.

The mercury at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport passed the 90-degree mark for the second straight day. It was the first time in 60 years we've seen two October days in the 90s, according to the National Weather Service.

It was also the high for any Oct. 8 since recordkeeping began in 1871, busting the 88-degree record set back in 1931.

There's more hot weather in store today, with predicted highs again near 90 degrees. But forecasters promise this wacky weather is about to come to an abrupt end. Sometime tonight, a cold front will sweep through the region from the Great Lakes, bringing a chance of rain or thunderstorms.

"That should change things around and bring us, at least temporarily into next week, to more seasonable conditions - maybe below-normal by the weekend," said Steven M. Zubrick, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va. "That's going to feel huge."

Tomorrow's predictions call for Baltimore highs closer to 80 degrees, and by Thursday we should be wearing jackets again.

Highs for the rest of the week and through the weekend should stick in the 60s, just a few degrees below the long-term averages for this time of year. At night, thermometers will slip into the 40s or 50s. And there will be a chance for showers each day through Sunday. BWI hasn't seen any measurable rain since Sept. 15.

Sunday's high of 92 was the first 90-plus October day in Baltimore since 1959, according to Steve Rogowski, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sterling. He searched the Baltimore records back to 1871 and found only 18 October days in the 90s before this year, in 11 separate years. Five of those occurred in October 1941.

The 48-year gap between October 1959 and October 2007 "is the biggest span without 90-degree weather in October ... in the historical record," he said. "We finally hit one."

Multiple October days in the 90s have occurred only four times until this year - in 1922, 1939, 1941 and 1947.

Records were also set yesterday at Reagan National Airport in Washington (91), and Dulles International in Northern Virginia (92). The high at the Maryland Science Center was 92 degrees.

Meteorologists are blaming the current October heat wave in the eastern United States on a "blocking high," a high-pressure system that has been dominating weather east of the Mississippi for months.

On Sunday, more than 100 stations in 21 states reported record high temperatures for the date. One runner died in Chicago and hundreds were treated for heat-related illness in a marathon run Sunday - a date that would normally offer ideal running conditions.

The high pressure has deflected the jet stream and the normal storm track, leaving much of the eastern U.S. under clear, sunny skies and starved for precipitation.

Drought conditions are especially severe in Alabama, Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Fifteen counties in central and eastern Maryland are under a drought watch, and residents outside the Baltimore and Washington water service areas have been asked to conserve.

Baltimore's public works officials say water in the city's three reservoirs is still close to 75 percent of capacity. In past droughts, the city has not turned to the Susquehanna River to supplement its own supplies until stored water has fallen below 60 percent of capacity. That decision is still more than a month away, they said.

In Washington, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has begun releasing hundreds of millions of gallons from the Jennings Randolph Reservoir, upriver on the Potomac.

The agency is testing flow rates in the water supply system that serves the capital and its suburbs, in case they need to tap the reservoirs in the event of a hydrological drought.

So far, officials told The Washington Post, supplies are adequate, with only a 1 percent chance that water suppliers along the Potomac will have to tap backup sources before the end of the year.

frank.roylance@baltsun.com

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