Oppressively hot weekend helps establish July as one for the record books

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2010; B01

Pity poor Chris Brown, like a lot of people did Friday.

With his walkie-talkie and badge identifying him as a bicycle messenger, almost every elevator he walked into had someone who remarked, unbidden, "I'm glad I don't do what you're doing."

"I've got the air conditioner cranked at home, so when I walk in, the sweat will solidify, and I can wash it off," Brown, 29, said longingly, facing a workday in which his coping strategy for the heat boiled down to two steps: Keep drinking water and sweating.

With another oppressively hot weekend ahead, July has established itself as one of the hottest on record. According to Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang, Friday was the 10th day in a row, and the 17th this month, during which temperatures topped 90 degrees. The National Weather Service had a heat advisory in effect until after nightfall, with the high of 97 degrees reported at Reagan National Airport about 5 p.m., shy of a record 101 degrees for the date set in 1991. Meteorologists predicted that Saturday would be even warmer and more humid than Friday, with temperatures reaching 101 degrees but feeling more like 110.

Systems were strained across the region. AAA warned motorists to beware of roads suddenly buckling. Commuter trains were ordered to slow down out of concern that the steel rails could expand and kink. Utilities neared or surpassed all-time peaks in electricity use, and Pepco imposed 15-minute limits on workers underground, where temperatures can hit 140 degrees.

The District expanded pool hours. The fire department dispatched "canteen trucks" equipped with misting fans and cooling chairs, in which overheated firefighters could sit and dunk their forearms in buckets of ice. Montgomery County was poised to invoke an anti-cruelty law prohibiting the tethering of dogs outside.

Many people in normally buttoned-up downtown Washington were dressed more appropriately for a resort. Men loosened their ties and rolled up shirt sleeves. Women wore strapless sundresses and shorts. Quite a few people carried bottled water, and many also carried umbrellas for shade.

Sweat management became an art form, particularly for those keeping up a professional appearance.

"I carry a lot of handkerchiefs and paper towels," said Keith Kirkpatrick, mopping his brow with a white handkerchief that he pulled from a pocket of his gray pinstriped suit as he walked to lunch from his job at Veterans Affairs. "This is Washington, D.C. You can't get away from wearing a suit."

In Rockville, Jawayne Parrish stopped on a sidewalk, unzipped a black duffel and pulled out a neatly folded baby-blue towel.

"I need it," he said, wiping his forehead and face. "I feel exhausted already, and I just started walking."

He's searching for a job and was heading to meet a restaurant manager he had met the day before. He was wearing a striped dress shirt and didn't want to be seen as a guy who could get thwarted by a little hot weather. "It's hot out, and I'm still dressed presentably," Parrish said.

Looking fresh took work. Brenda Slaughter, a front-desk receptionist at a downtown office building, tucked a wash towel, soap and deodorant in her purse. Cheryl Noland, a bank teller liaison, wore a sun hat while waiting for the bus to work and ambled in the shade of Lafayette Square after downing a chilled frappe.

Strolling through a Fairfax County shopping center, Carrie Farabee kept the sweat at bay in a short-sleeved top, cropped jeans and flip-flops.

"We have a relaxed dress code," said Farabee, a legal assistant. "I'm glad I don't have to wear stockings every day."

It was also a tough day to be a tourist.

Jillaine and Anthony Gingerelli of Nutley, N.J., planned to stick to air-conditioned museums Friday with their four children, ages 7 to 13. At 10:30 a.m., Jillaine Gingerelli already rued her decision to apply makeup so she'd look nice for photographs.

"I was wrong," she said, shouldering a backpack holding four bottles of water. "It's already dripping off."

Government officials expressed concern that the continuing heat was not merely uncomfortable but unsafe. That point was driven home Friday when Virginia reported a sixth heat-related death, which occurred in late June in central Virginia. Maryland has had 16 deaths related to the heat; the District has had one.

Offering a cool place for residents who don't have air conditioning, the District extended operating hours at senior centers, homeless shelters and libraries. Since the heat wave began at the end of June, the city has had about 600 emergency medical calls a day, most of them heat-related, up from 450 on a typical summer day, said D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Pete Piringer. The city's Transportation Department sent out Twitter feeds advising motorists to carry water and an umbrella in case of breakdowns.

Utilities also sent out advisories on keeping cool while minimizing electricity use. Dominion Virginia suggested closing drapes or blinds during the day and barbecuing outdoors.

Electricity use has soared in the past month. Pepco customers normally consume 5,300 megawatts of power on a summer day. Since June 1, consumption has surpassed 6,000 megawatts on 15 days and is running about 13 percent over last summer, spokesman Clay Anderson said. Energy demand by Virginia Dominion customers is 15 to 18 percent above normal, with 11 days when the peak topped 18,000 megawatts; in comparison, last June's peak demand was about 16,400 megawatts.

The heat wave is expected to continue, even if it breaks for a few days next week, said the Capital Weather Gang's Samenow. It may be worth remembering, he said, that this is the heat everyone yearned for in the winter.

"We've gone from one extreme to another," Samenow said. "With an earthquake in the middle."

Staff writers Kafia A. Hosh, Michael Laris and Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.

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