Everyone complains about the weather, but when the mercury hits the stratosphere, the discontent sounds more like despair.
"I'm burning up," Robin Spedalere, who was headed toward a cooling center in North Baltimore, said early Saturday afternoon as the temperature reached 99 degrees. "This is probably the hottest it's ever been in I don't know how long."
As it happened, that number was 2 degrees hotter than the previous record for the date, in 1987. By 3 p.m. Saturday, gauges at BWI- Thurgood Marshall Airport reached 100 degrees, and Sunday's forecast called for temperatures only marginally less scorching.
In Prince George's County, a 20-year-old man died Saturday shortly before noon when he went into cardiac arrest while bicycling, and authorities suspected that heat was a factor. His death brought the number of heat-related fatalities this year in Maryland to 17.
"This is terrible," said Felipe Rivera, a cook at Loyola University Maryland, sweating profusely as he tossed back a bottle of water at the York Road cooling center. "That's why when we had 30 inches of snow I didn't complain. I just grabbed a shovel and kept it moving. Snow, ice and rain — that stuff don't bother me. I'd rather have that than this."
Appealing as the idea of arctic air might be, extreme heat is the norm for now. On Saturday, with no letup in sight, Baltimore health officials announced that they were extending through Sunday a Code Red heat alert begun Friday. Five emergency cooling centers remain open during daytime hours, with cool air, water and ice available free to people feeling the effects of the heat.
The city's interim health commissioner, Olivia D. Farrow, warned that people with heart conditions and other ailments that might make them vulnerable to excessive heat should seek immediate medical help if they begin to feel unwell.
"We try to encourage people not to go out in the heat," said a woman who was handing out water bottles from a large cooler at the Northern Community Action Center at 5225 York Road. The woman, who asked that her name not be used because she is a city employee and feared disciplinary action if identified, said there had been a line of people waiting outside the building before the cooling center opened at 11 a.m.
"One lady came in, all jumpy and nervous from the heat," the woman recalled. "I said, 'Sit down, have some water.' Some of them feel comfortable; some don't."
And some plow through their discomfort. "It's too hot to be working, but I don't have a choice," said Thomas Sheppard, wielding an electric drill in the Govans neighborhood, where he had spent the morning fixing a porch in anticipation of a city inspector's visit Monday. "It's been tough."
Sheppard said he had been gulping water, made slightly tastier by the powdered lemonade his wife had thoughtfully placed in his lunch bag.
At Neopol, a delicatessen and smokery in Belvedere Square, employee Jake Fishman said there was such a demand for water that once all the cheap bottles were gone, customers starting snapping up the high-end stuff — Walnet Grove Spring Water, in a glass bottle that looks as though it should carry wine, for $4.19 — which normally languishes on the shelf. Customers were also asking for lots of cups of ice.
"The heat does keep people in their homes," Fishman said, looking around at the unusually sparse crowd early Saturday afternoon. "But we did have a bit of a rush about an hour ago: Maybe people were tired of staying at home with their air conditioners."
At the Atwater's counter nearby, Irene Donnelly said she and other workers were coping not only with a drop in the number of customers but a commensurate reduction in tips. "July is normally the slowest month anyway, but this is even slower," she said. On the bright side, "Iced coffees are selling like crazy."
Most cooling centers in Baltimore are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. The exceptions are the Southern Community Action Center at 606 Cherry Hill Road, which will close at 3 p.m., and the Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave., open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The other locations are the Northern Community Action Center, 5225 York Road; the Northwest Community Action Center, 3939 Reisterstown Road; the Southeastern Community Action Center, 3411 Bank St.; and the Eastern Community Action Center, 1400 E. Federal St.
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