Beating The Heat

A Relatively Mild Summer (so Far) Comes As A Pleasant Surprise

July 11, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,liz.kay@baltsun.com

Corine Schramke isn't complaining.

The Baltimore area has not experienced much extreme summer weather thus far, so the Ellicott City resident has enjoyed more time on her deck. Her utility bills are lower, too.

"In the late afternoon and evening, I throw open all the windows and get the fresh air in, and it's been wonderful," said Schramke, who works from home. "This is an enormously pleasant surprise this year."

Temperatures at the weather station at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport didn't climb above 90 degrees at all in May or June, according to National Weather Service data, defying the area's reputation for sweltering summer heat and humidity. In fact, so far this year, temperatures have breached the 90-degree threshold on only three April days, based on the data.

The mild weather was likely a big reason why Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. customers used about 10 percent less electricity in June compared with last year. Bills for many customers will be lower as a result, according to BGE officials.

On the hottest day in May, the temperature reached 86 degrees. In June, temperatures remained close to normal and hit 89 degrees only twice, said Todd Miner, a meteorologist with the Penn State Weather Communications Group.

July, on the other hand, has been 4 degrees below normal, he said.

"It's not out of the ballpark to have an oddball 90-degree day in April," Miner said. "What is unusual is if you had three all year and ... all three occurred in April."

There are usually about seven days warmer than 90 degrees in May and June, according to the National Weather Service. And Marylanders can usually expect about 10 such days by the first week of July, Miner said.

Daytime highs in June were about 2 degrees below normal. That month was rainy, though, and the accompanying clouds tend to keep daytime temperatures lower, Miner said. But nighttime averages were actually a little higher than normal, because the cloud cover retains the sun's radiation close to the ground, he added.

However, it's unlikely we will escape summer without at least a few scorchers, according to Miner. Forecasts call for a fairly average month, he said.

"I would be pretty surprised if Baltimore doesn't have a string of several consecutive days where the temperature is at or above 90," he said. "We would really be fighting climatology ... that would be so highly unusual I would tend to bet against it."

Weather goes in cycles, and chances are it will change later in the summer to allow more characteristic heat and humidity, Miner said. Baltimore's daily record highs for August tend to be 100 degrees or more, he added. Metro area records show that the temperature has hit 105 degrees three times in August, most recently in 1983.

"You can't count summer out yet. You can only count it out come November," Miner said.

Wayne Harbaugh, BGE's vice president for regulatory affairs, said electricity consumption has decreased due to favorable weather.

"The weather has been cooler. The humidity has not been as high this year," he said, making it easier for more customers to turn on fans or open windows to keep cool.

On average, about 50 percent of an energy bill is driven by air conditioning and heating, Harbaugh said. "Weather is the biggest driver," he said.

The economy could be another factor, with more consumers doing more to cut back and increase efficiency, Harbaugh said. Even when using their air conditioners, consumers could raise the thermostat to 70, 72 or even 74 degrees to eliminate humidity but still feel comfortable, he said.

Schramke, the Ellicott City resident, was forced to use central air conditioning some nights to avoid aggravating her allergies. But her family's utility bills are down about 10 percent, she said.

"You hate to say anything - you don't want to jinx it," the Wyoming native said. "I get up and say, 'Oh, it's still beautiful. Thank you, God.' "

But after last winter's sky-high bills, low-income customers are still struggling, said Bill McLennan, executive director of Paul's Place, which provides emergency services to residents of Baltimore's Pigtown and Poppleton neighborhoods. The number of people seeking assistance started to spike in April when a temporary ban on utility shut-offs was lifted. McLennan said consumers' bills continued to accrue during that time.

"The results of winter are now coming to a head on the bills," he said. "It is a blessing to have better weather now through the summer so there won't be a large accumulation."

June energy usage

Average residential consumption by BGE customers in June for the past five years.

Year Avg. consumption

2005 1,077 kwh

2006 970 kwh

2007 1,023 kwh

2008 1,012 kwh

2009 906 kwh

Source: BGE

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