Haze, Humidity and History: 102 Degrees

A dense haze obscures the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol and other landmarks of Washington on a day of record heat.
A dense haze obscures the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol and other landmarks of Washington on a day of record heat. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
By Joe Holley and Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 9, 2007

While a dangerous heat wave hanging over the East Coast generated severe storms that delayed flights, flooded New York City subways and spawned a rare tornado in Brooklyn, Washington area residents languished yesterday in oppressive heat and humidity.

At 12:05 p.m., the temperature hit 102 degrees at Reagan National Airport, according to the National Weather Service, breaking by one degree the record for Aug. 8, set in 1930.

A few clouds moved in just before 2 p.m., lowering the temperature a bit, but it hovered in the high 90s all over the Washington area, said meteorologist James E. Lee.

The temperature also soared at the other major area airports. At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the temperature hit 102 at 3:13 p.m., breaking the record of 99, set in 1980. Dulles International Airport peaked at 101 degrees at 3:02 p.m., topping by three degrees the record set in 1980.

The torrid August heat slowed down not only pedestrians trudging along baking downtown sidewalks, but also the Metro trains below.

Because excessive heat can bend steel rails, trains were held to speeds of less than 45 mph, rather than the usual 59 mph. The trains also were operated manually rather than automatically.

Rush-hour passengers on Metro's Red Line also were bent out of shape. They were ordered outside into the broiling heat when Metro closed three heavily used stations -- Dupont Circle, Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan and Cleveland Park -- on its busiest line for about two hours after a passenger reported seeing a suspicious package on the last car of a train headed for Glenmont, Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said.

Police destroyed the box, which turned out to contain nothing dangerous -- some papers and cardboard. The stations were closed shortly before 3 p.m. and opened at 5 p.m., and delays rippled through the system.

Metro ran more than 52 shuttle buses between Farragut North and Van Ness-UDC to accommodate the crowds of people.

The heat was at least partly responsible for power outages in the Van Ness area about 2 p.m., according to Pepco spokesman Robert Dobkin. After a power cable malfunctioned Tuesday night, crews spliced other cables together. But when power use soared in yesterday's heat, it proved too much for the cobbled-together cable.

High demand across the mid-Atlantic region led Pepco and other utilities in the regional PJM Power Pool to reduce system voltage by 5 percent. Declaring an energy emergency, the utilities asked customers to cut back virtually all nonessential electricity use, including air conditioners, except for equipment required for health and safety purposes.

For anyone turning off the air conditioning or daring to venture outdoors, the heat was overpowering.

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