Record-breaking 97-degree heat is serious business when you live in an airless rowhouse in Southwest Baltimore.
Maybe that's why 23-month-old Jahari Gray looked so serious Tuesday as he held the garden hose that was ever-so-slowly filling a blue, plastic wading pool on the sidewalk at his parents' home in the 1200 block of West Cross Street.
A weary-looking Lee Evans, 24, watched Jahari from the steps of another Formstone rowhouse next door. "It's burnin' up, man," he said. "No air conditioning. Can't sleep."
More 90-plus heat is predicted for the Baltimore area Wednesday — which could threaten a June 1 record set in 1895 — and officials have extended heat and pollution alerts. Baltimore County schools will close early; the city school district also announced it will operate on a half-day schedule.
But relief is due late in the day, arriving with a cold front and thunderstorms. That should cut the humidity and push daytime high temperatures back into the 80s starting on Thursday, forecasters said.
The temperature at BWI-Marshall Airport reached 97 degrees at midafternoon Tuesday, breaking the record set for the date in 1991.
The heat and high humidity spurred public schools in the city and Baltimore County to close early Tuesday. And with more of the same coming Wednesday, county schools will close three hours early again.
Anne Arundel County's schools are all air-conditioned, but three were closed Tuesday when those systems failed. They were expected to reopen Wednesday, schools officials said.
Tuesday's heat came on the heels of a 98-degree reading on Monday. That tied the record for the date, also set in 1991. Ninety-eight is also the highest temperature on record here for any date in May. It's been matched on three other May dates, in 1925, 1941 and 1962.
Meteorologist Howard Silverman, at the National Weather Service's regional forecast office in Sterling, Va., said high pressure has stacked up over the Southeast U.S. coast, pumping southern heat and humidity our way.
"When that happens, you're able to get pretty close to the humid air mass you normally have down near the Gulf Coast," he said. "At 4 p.m. the temperature at [Washington's] National Airport was 96. In Atlanta it was 91."
Forecasters said Wednesday will bring more heat and humidity, with highs near 95 degrees again, about 15 degrees above the average for this time of year.
If so, it will mark only the fifth time on record that Baltimore has recorded three straight days of 95-plus heat by June 1. The record high for Baltimore on a June 1 is 97 degrees, set in 1895.
"There is a cold front that's forecast to come through Wednesday afternoon or Wednesday evening," Silverman said. "We're expecting a line of possibly strong thunderstorms to accompany the cold front."
For the rest of the week, he said, daytime highs should cool "a little bit," with highs in the 80s. Even better, dew points should drop from the steamy 70s into the 50s, cutting the humidity sharply.
But not yet. The Baltimore Health Department has extended its Code Red Heat Alert into Wednesday, opening cooling centers across the city and sending outreach workers to check on vulnerable residents.
The National Weather Service issued Heat Advisories again for all of Central Maryland, from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday, as the Heat Index — a measure of the combined effects of temperature and humidity — once more headed for triple digits.
And the Maryland Department of the Environment has again posted Code Orange Air Pollution advisories for Wednesday in all of Central Maryland as air pollution was forecast to reach levels considered unhealthy for the elderly, the young and other sensitive populations.
It all adds up to at least one more day of discomfort for the Evans and Gray families.
Evans' daughters, Charlie, 3, and Cody, 2, stood solemnly on their front steps, waiting for Jahari to fill the little pool. It had been a restless night for them all, Evans said. Temperatures at The Baltimore Sun's downtown weather station never dropped below 80 degrees Monday night.
"We were wiping them off with rags." But the girls slept fitfully, Evans said, "tossing and turning."
On top of the heat and humidity, Robert and Latrease Gray, Lee Evans and their kids were living Tuesday morning with the acrid smell of asphalt on their block of Cross Street.
At the intersection just a few doors away, a dozen men with P. Flanigan & Sons of Baltimore worked in the hot sun, laying down two inches of fresh, 300-degree asphalt on Washington Boulevard.
Carlos Duane Croslin, 38, said he's worked for the company for 12 years and has spent plenty of that time on hot days, standing on the paver, right behind the dump trucks as they dropped steaming loads into his hopper.
"We keep coolers [of water] there so we constantly stay hydrated. When the trucks run out [of asphalt], we take a break," he said. "You've got to know yourself, and know when to take a break."