Hint of relief coming after 11-day heat wave
By Fredrick Kunkle and Jeremy Borden,
You know it’s bad when relief means the temperature has dipped to 102 degrees.
A day after flirting with the all-time heat record, the Washington area awoke to a slightly less punishing reading on the heat index Sunday.
But who could tell? It still felt as if the region had been buried alive in heat, as if the air itself was an enemy. Many felt trapped indoors, while those who ventured outside planned their movements between air-conditioned venues the way generals plan island-hopping campaigns.
But as a cold front inched in from the north, indications were that an end had finally come to the 11-day heat wave that broke records for its intensity and duration. The heat forced the cancellation of some outdoor events; sent people to pools, theaters, libraries or other air-conditioned oases; and even bent Metro’s steel tracks enough to derail a Green Line train.
By 9 p.m. the temperature at Reagan National Airport was 84 degrees. Not enough to cause a chill, but 18 degrees below the day’s high.
Meanwhile, the front triggered a severe storm in Spotsylvania County, Va., that damaged three commercial buildings and a house, injuring at least seven people in a neighborhood at the county’s northeastern edge, said Mark Kuechler, a county fire and rescue spokesman. Jared Klein, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said a decision would probably be made Monday on whether to survey the damage to determine if it was caused by a tornado.
The relentless heat has been all the worse because millions had to endure it without power, which was knocked out in a freakish storm June 29. And yet when the first hint of relief arrived — a cold front sneaking over the region on Sunday — it brought another line of powerful thunderstorms that again pitched some neighborhoods into darkness.
Dominion Power said that 23,000 customers lost service about 6:15 p.m. after storms and lightning struck in Northern Virginia, but the utility had reduced the number of outages to about 4,200 by late Sunday night. And Pepco reported only 300 outages in the District and Maryland.
Pavement buckled in the heat on Route 50 in the Bowie area. Only one lane was available for use Sunday afternoon after a 20-foot section of pavement buckled about 2:35 p.m. in the eastbound lanes, west of Route 301, the state police said. Some vehicle damage was reported when the incident first occurred, Sgt. John Revel said.
The good news is that forecasters predicted temperatures mostly in the 80s for the next week or so.
For much of the weekend, service was halted on part of the Green Line, after a derailment on Friday that Metro officials said was caused by the heat. On Sunday night, Metro restored service on a single track between the Fort Totten and Prince George’s Plaza stations. The transit agency said it was trying to restore full service for Monday morning.
While some exasperated residents — including a Bethesda family menaced by what appeared to be a live wire down near their home — were still contacting Pepco and other utilities about restoring power lost more than a week ago, regional officials were beginning to assess the financial impact of the “derecho” and the heat wave.
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon S. Bulova (D) said she expected to see higher overtime costs and other expenses caused by having to operate cooling centers. Virginia officials are also seeking answers from Verizon about the loss of 911 service after the storm.
Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said it is unclear what impact the historic chain of extremely hot days has had on the region, but he suspects that it has reduced the number of travelers. “Because of the heat, people who might have wanted to come here didn’t,” Anderson said.
A day after the region nearly broke the all-time heat record of 106 degrees, the Washington area awoke to temperatures in the 90s. By 3 p.m., the temperature at Reagan National Airport had climbed to 102, setting a new daily record, according to Jason Samenow, meteorologist for The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. It also made for the fourth straight day of 100 degrees or higher, matching a record-long streak set in July 1930.
The record-breaking heat wave has been linked to 10 deaths in recent days in Maryland and Virginia. It also complicated efforts to recover from the wreckage of an unusual storm that knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people.
Christina M. Hartman, 30, who lives in Bethesda, said Sunday that Pepco still had not dealt with a power line in her yard — even though an electrician who installed a cable at her home on Thursday said that he thinks the downed line is carrying electricity. And she has had trouble getting anyone from the utility to come check it out.
“They say they have a ticket open,” Hartman said.
There were no reported heat-related deaths in Virginia from the weekend’s near-record highs, according to Maribeth Brewster, a Virginia Department of Health spokeswoman. Maryland’s Department of Health reported three heat-related deaths over the weekend, spokeswoman Karen Black said. District officials could not be reached.
On Sunday, with temperatures again in the triple digits, Metro was operating with a 35 mph maximum speed limit on all above-ground tracks, and additional teams of inspectors were walking the rails looking for possible problems, Metro spokesman Dan Stessel said.
He said he expected normal speeds to be restored on Monday.
At last the enormous heat dome that settled over the eastern two-thirds of the country for the past two weeks appeared on the verge of being broken, allowing the dip in the jet stream to move east and deliver cooler air from the north.
“We’re not going to see a return of record heat anytime soon,” Samenow said.
For the next week, he said, high temperatures should reach the mid- to upper 80s, close to normal if not a bit below.
“I don’t even see us hitting 90 this week, which is good,” Samenow said.
Hamil R. Harris, Katherine Shaver and Marissa Evans contributed to this report.