The nine-block walk that Tanya Travis took with her 6-year-old granddaughter Thursday morning in their West Baltimore neighborhood seemed more like nine miles.
Triple-digit temperatures and stifling humidity sapped Travis and other Baltimoreans trying to cope with the record heat this week. So when Travis, who went out to pay a bill, saw a sign saying the Sandtown Winchester Senior Center was serving as one of the city's 11 cooling centers, she and the little girl went in.
They signed up for a free bottle of water and took a few minutes out of the suffocating air.
"I had bought her a couple of bottles of water, but she [drank] them up before we even got there," Travis said, pointing to Maliyah. "I didn't have any money on me for more."
By noon, the senior center was busy with regular activities such as bingo and pool — the kind with green felt and cue sticks. About three dozen mostly elderly people were there, most of them regulars searching for camaraderie rather than the coolness, or relative coolness, since the overworked air-conditioning system had the thermostat hovering around 82 degrees.
But that was a lot better than outside, where by 2:40 p.m. the mercury at BWI Marshall Airport briefly reached 100 degrees, the official high for the day. It was 103 at the Inner Harbor. The airport reading broke the official 98-degree Baltimore record for the date first reached in 1874, and most recently matched in 1933.
It was the first 100-plus reading at BWI since July 25, when it was 100 degrees. The highest airport temperature on record for June is 101 degrees, reached most recently on June 15, 1994. The hottest June temperature on record for Baltimore is 105 degrees, recorded downtown on June 29, 1934.
Air quality in the area also reached Code Red status.
Thursday's heat buckled two concrete slabs inside the left-hand tube of the southbound Fort McHenry Tunnel just before the evening rush hour, according to the Maryland Transportation Authority. The section was closed as repair crews moved in with jackhammers.
Thunderstorms late Thursday were expected to knock 10 degrees off the afternoon temperatures by Friday. The forecast called for an airport high of 91, but with continued high humidity.
Baltimore County schools officials announced late Thursday that they would dismiss students two hours early again on Friday. It's the fifth such early close because of heat since May 31, and the third this week.
County schools spokesman Charles Herndon said there is no policy defining when schools will close due to heat. The call is made based on the forecast and conditions in the schools. If schools without air conditioning have been unable to cool overnight after a hot day, an early close is more likely, he said.
City schools will also dismiss students early Friday, operate on a half-day schedule and cancel afternoon pre-kindergarten and after school activities.
Daytime temperatures over the weekend should cool to the 80s, forecasters said, with a continued risk of showers and storms. But full relief isn't due until late Sunday, when a cold front is expected to usher in sunny, drier weather for next week, with highs in the low 80s.
A few Baltimoreans couldn't wait and opened at least 12 fire hydrants Thursday. One report to the Department of Public Works from the intersection of North Payson Street and West Lafayette Avenue said, "Hydrant open in dangerous area where [drivers] come off the bridge and [it's] hard to navigate around children in the street."
Numbers coming in from Wednesday's 99-degree steam bath included heat-related illnesses sending at least three people to area emergency rooms. Two were admitted, according to the Baltimore Health Department.
Meanwhile, several dozen Southern Maryland elementary school students attending an event at a baseball stadium were taken to hospitals after they reported feeling ill because of the heat. Charles County spokeswoman Crystal Hunt said 82 children were either treated at the stadium or were taken to hospitals.
And the demand for electricity to spin fans and air conditioners Wednesday reached a seasonal record of 6,679 megawatts. That broke the season's previous high of 6,651 megawatts set on June 1. It also edged out the year-ago June peak of 6,675 megawatts, said Linda Foy, spokeswoman for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.
Foy also reported "some isolated outages that are likely heat-related."
Back at the Sandtown Winchester Senior Center, Mary Cobbs, a West Baltimore resident, was looking at her respite from the heat as an economical move as well. Cobbs, 85, said that by coming to the cooling center she can turn off the electric fans she has going in her house. "It saves on my electric bill," she said.
Cobbs, who has lived her entire life in Baltimore, doesn't like the heat. "I'm a winter person," she said. "It never gets too cold for me."