Marylanders Cope With Heat Wave

Seven-year-old Jayla Mitchell of Waldorf plays in the sand Tuesday at North Beach in Calvert County, which proved to be a popular spot for people seeking relief from soaring temperatures.
Seven-year-old Jayla Mitchell of Waldorf plays in the sand Tuesday at North Beach in Calvert County, which proved to be a popular spot for people seeking relief from soaring temperatures. (By Mark Gong -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 3, 2006

Perhaps it is the humidity after all. It was so high in this week's heat wave that laundry hung outside to dry stayed damp.

Nevertheless, Gertrude Lacey strung up white T-shirts on a clothesline in her back yard in Oakley. It was 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday and 98 degrees in her St. Mary's County community. Square box fans whirred in every window of her blue house. Lacey doesn't have air conditioning and remains undaunted even during heat advisories.

"It's too cool for me," she said of the air conditioning that is deemed essential by most area residents this week. "The heat is part of the summer. It's the last part. This is August, and next month it'll be September."

Relief may be just a seasonal change away, but the dog days of summer are here, lapping at the backs of sweaty necks and turning parked cars into ovens. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory Monday for Southern Maryland and much of the Washington region, heralding the grueling (and potentially fatal) union of high temperatures and high humidity. The advisory is supposed to end tonight.

But on Tuesday, August prowled, quiet and vicious, along Route 242 in St. Mary's County. Though there was no perceptible breeze, logy flags fluttered, as if signaling their own surrender. Insects hummed. Heat radiated from the pavement. It was 12:15 p.m., and the thermometer carried by a visitor registered 100 degrees.

Gary Lane-Blake, in his open-door FedEx truck, rounded the corner onto Cryer Road in Oakley.

"It's a little better here, with the woods and the shade," he said as he drove to his next drop-off. "It's not like downtown D.C. with all the exhaust and traffic. Never want to do that again."

There is no air conditioning in his truck, and Lane-Blake relies on a small fan clipped to the visor, a big cooler of water in the back and whatever air flow is generated by vehicular motion. After 10 hours lugging packages around Southern Maryland, he's ready to do one thing when he gets home at 7 p.m.

"I'm passing out," he said.

12:45 p.m. 102 degrees.

Working with ice might seem the ideal summer job, especially during a heat advisory. Not so.

Chris Pyles, a Mechanicsville resident, is the "iceman" at Shop Cove Seafood and Ice in Coltons Point. Seven days a week, he funnels it from a giant icemaker into 8- and 16-lb bags. Then he seals them and trucks cases worth to convenience stores and gas stations across Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

Although it's chilly and comfortable in the damp ice room, Pyles spends equal time outside. And ice, though refreshing, is heavy.

"You've got to carry the ice into the freezer, then out of the store, then into the freezer, then outside," Pyles said. "Sweat freezes to you after a while."

1:50 p.m. 103 degrees.

From the side of Route 5 in Mechanicsville, a sign with fiery orange letters stands out in the shimmering haze: "Extreme Heat." It's a tanning salon.

Apparently, some people escape the heat by going tanning. You get the tan, minus the humidity, explained Lisa Norris, owner of Extreme Heat. July and August are slow months for salons in general, Norris said, but 30 customers came through Monday. She expected good numbers this week.

"It's cool," Norris said, showing off a new stand-up tanning room that blows 22-mph wind at customers while surrounding them in a 12,000-watt light bath. "It's a nice, peaceful place. Nobody bothers you."

2:30 p.m. 105 degrees.

Perhaps the most ruthless place in Southern Maryland on Tuesday was the Hughesville Bypass, an unshaded crockpot of dirt, exhaust and ultraviolet rays. Ronald Adams, a laborer for Cherry Hill Construction Inc., stood in the middle of one of the roundabouts at the project site, tallying loads of dirt as they passed by in thundering earthmovers.

The heat was excruciating. Adams had on jeans, work boots, a hard helmet and a beard.

"This is about as hot as it's been here since I've been here," said Adams, who lives in Clinton and has worked on the bypass for the past two summers. "Last year it wasn't so bad, but I guess it's getting back at us this summer."

On account of the heat, quitting time was moved from 5:30 p.m. to 3:30 this week. Adams had plans after work.

"I'm going to go home, take a nice cold shower, turn the air on and relax ," he said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company