Area Utilities Don't Wilt As Demand Sets Records

By Michael E. Ruane and Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Lights were dimmed in Congress, extra power plants stayed online and warnings about air quality were issued yesterday as the Washington region sizzled through a withering heat wave that forecasters expected to get even worse today.

With temperatures near 100 and heat indexes topping 115 in some areas, two of the region's utilities, Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., reported record power demand. They urged customers to conserve energy.

National Weather Service officials said yesterday's high at Reagan National Airport was 98 at 3:36 p.m., just short of the record of 99 for the date set in 2002.

Today's high is expected to top the record of 100, set in 2002, and another record could fall tomorrow, said Weather Service meteorologist David Manning.

A record was broken at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport when the mercury hit 100 at 3:03 p.m. The old record was 99, set in 1933. The temperature at Dulles International Airport reached 97 at 3:32, shy of the record of 100 set in 1980.

Joe Bartosik, a meteorologist with WeatherBug, a private weather agency based in Germantown, recorded heat indexes of well over 100 across the area. He said an index of 118, combining heat and humidity, was recorded in Williamsburg at 2 p.m. "Brutal," he said.

Manning said: "We have a big, very warm subtropical ridge of high pressure over us. We've seen extreme temperatures as it tracked from west to east across the country."

Most of the eastern United States is affected. In Georgia, a high school football player died of heatstroke yesterday during a practice.

Even after sundown, many Washingtonians experienced difficulties in keeping cool, as temperatures remained stubbornly close to 90. The pool at the Georgetown recreation center closed early after an equipment failure raised chlorine levels. Five people who reported burning eyes were taken to a hospital for observation.

At the 9:30 club in Northwest Washington, the local farewell performance of the indie rock band Sleater-Kinney was canceled because repairs being made on a nearby transformer could have jeopardized the club's lights. A Pepco spokeswoman said it was possible that the heat necessitated the repairs.

Late last night, power was out for more than 2,000 customers in the District and Montgomery County, according to Pepco.

Meanwhile, Pepco Energy Services, a utility subsidiary, kept its two extra "peaking" plants on the Anacostia River online to augment the power supply. The plants, on Benning Road NE and at Buzzard Point, are used at times of high demand and were activated Monday, a spokesman said.

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