By Nick Miroff and Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Somewhere over Ohio and Kentucky and the central Appalachian range, there is an end to this wicked heat wave, a benevolent air mass of milder weather moving our way that won't kill your lawn or wither your pets. If it arrives later today, as predicted, it will break the hot spell in a crack of thunder, banishing the awful funk out to sea.
And the people will rejoice. For they have suffered.
They suffered yesterday, the third day in a row, in stuffy classrooms and hot cars and at dusty construction sites. They suffered in sweaty homes without electricity and in office buildings where cooling systems quit working. With few clouds to shield the bright, baking sun, the pre-summer heat wave hit 96 degrees at Reagan National Airport at 3:22 p.m. That was well below the record high of 102 set in 1874, but surely no spring picnic. The heat index, which is how hot it feels, reached 102.
And it was plenty hot enough to put local governments, power companies and worried parents on alert. Cooling centers remained open, public pools extended hours and administrators at several schools around the region sent students home for lack of air conditioning.
The hot weather will continue today, with temperatures in the upper 90s, forecasters said. Relief would come with a front of cooler air that should arrive by afternoon or evening, with thunderstorms possible.
"Some will be capable of producing damaging winds and large hail, but they won't be as widespread as last Wednesday," said National Weather Service meteorologist Brian LaSorsa, referring to violent storms that killed a Fairfax County man.
Hundreds of thousands of area residents lost power in those storms, and although service had been nearly restored by yesterday afternoon, there were new reports of power failures in Herndon and Springfield and in parts of Maryland and the District.
The heat produced poor air quality, which prompted several schools to cancel recess and forced Metro to issue a Code Red alert, offering free rides on bus routes outside the District. The agency did not get the word out to its drivers before the morning rush, so many riders paid for their trips anyway.
At least they did not have to drive in traffic. Heat-averse residents who had spent the weekend in their homes were left to contend with sweltering commutes and roasting classrooms.
In Prince George's County, Isaac J. Gourdine and Dwight D. Eisenhower middle schools and Central and Bladensburg high schools suspended classes because of a lack of air conditioning, said Tanzi West, a spokeswoman for the school system. In Rockville, Tilden Middle School also overheated, and classes were canceled.
In Howard County, officials shut Howard and Marriott Ridge high schools at 12:30 p.m. because the campuses' cooling systems had given out. Parents in minivans and sport-utility vehicles arrived, idling in long lines in the hot sun, waiting to take home the students.
Doug Lambert, a minister at the Greater Baltimore Church of Christ of Brooklyn, Md., had his entire day mapped out until he received a midmorning text message from his daughter Victoria, a freshman at Howard High School, asking him to pick her up. Lambert was looking forward, cautiously, to the end of the heat wave.
"They say we're going to get a break because the highs will only be in the 80s," he said as he waited in his air-conditioned van. "When temperatures in the 80s sound like a break, you know it's bad."
The air conditioning also conked out in a 10-story office building in the 6900 block of Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park, sending hundreds of workers home. "Most people left because the windows don't open and it's 85 to 90 degrees in the building," said Jeremy Busse, owner of Advanced Building Design, an architecture and general contracting firm. "It's too hot to work," he said, calling the heat wave "ridiculous."
At Waverly House, a senior housing facility in Bethesda that lost its air conditioning over the weekend, about 75 people fled for the second consecutive day to escape the heat. Officials scrambled to install room air conditioners for residents who stayed, and they expected to have those apartments equipped by this afternoon.
For some, the oppressive heat made a trip to the pool unbearable. Kelly Edwards of Leesburg and her children Hannah, 2 1/2 , and Emma, 8 months, instead went to the public library in Ashburn. "It is a little worrisome," she said. "With younger kids, even going to the pool -- it's too hot for them to be out too long, even if they're in the water."
With temperatures straining engines and car batteries as much as drivers, AAA Mid-Atlantic had received about 4,840 calls for service by 5 p.m. yesterday, including 1,163 in Maryland, 1,015 in Virginia and 184 in the District. A typical 24-hour period in the summer usually totals about 5,600 calls. "The two busiest times of the year for us are in extreme heat and extreme cold," said John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA, which includes Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey in its mid-Atlantic region. Batteries, tires, engine belts and hoses -- "anything made of rubber" -- are vulnerable during extreme heat, he said.
Even shopping, usually a reliable escape on the most miserable days, could not alleviate the hot-and-bothered-ness of it all. At Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets, customers shuttled quickly through the muggy plaza, eager to reach the air conditioning in the next store. The brief periods spent outdoors were enough to sap shoppers' strength.
Heather Freeman of Dublin, Va., said she and friend were cutting their shopping day short. "We're just about done," Freeman said shortly after 3 p.m., resting on a shaded bench. "The heat kind of drains you. . . . My dogs don't even like to go out. I don't blame them. If I had on a fur coat, I'd want to go back inside, too."
Staff writers Lori Aratani, Michael Alison Chandler, Daniel DeVise, Paul Duggan, Nelson Hernandez, Ian Shapira, Lena H. Sun, Bill Turque and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.