Only a few days into a Washington summer, with the dog days yet to come, forecasters are predicting an even warmer than usual season, with scorching temperatures and frequent periods of the city's famous back-drenching humidity.
"Just don't fight it," advised Harold Hess, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "When I came here from Chicago 20 years ago, I thought I'd die. But you get used to it. Just keep your cool -- literally and figuratively. That's the best way to handle it."
So far, this June has been cooler than average, with no 90-degree days, and temperatures about 1.5 degrees below normal daily highs in the mid-80s. Yesterday, however, the mercury hit 85 degrees at 1 p.m. at National Airport, and it will be hot again today, with an expected high near 90.
Those who hate the heat will have to put up with it until tomorrow, when cooler and drier weather will sweep through the city, bringing the mercury back to 83 and the humidity down from about 50 percent to 40 percent. The extended outlook for Wednesday is much the same.
But nothing in Washington stays cool for long in the summer, and the jungle-like heat and humidity is a constant topic of conversation. As President James Buchanan once said in an often-quoted remark: "Washington, D.C., is no place for a civilized man to spend the summer."
During a typical summer, daily temperatures soar into the mid-80s in June, the upper 80s in July, and fall back to the mid-80s in August. By September, the weather becomes a little more civilized, with average daily highs of about 80 degrees.
This year, however, the National Weather Service is predicting summer temperatures a degree or two above normal. "We're not talking about a continuous heat wave or anything like that," said Hess.
But we are talking hot, because despite the averages, there are days when the mercury zooms into the 90s, and the sun seems to reflect overhead with the intensity of an oven broiler.
If it is any consolation, even cool and foggy New England is expected to be two or three degrees warmer than usual this year, Hess said. "And when you get into the southeastern states, the Gulf states and Texas -- they have more heat and humidity than we have here."
The hottest days so far this year were in April, when the mercury hit 91 on the 19th, and 93 on the 22nd -- shattering by 4 degrees the old record for that date set in 1902.
There weren't any 90-degree days in May, and there haven't been any so far in June, which is unusual.
Hess said this season's higher-than-normal expected temperatures could be the result of more southerly winds. "To be honest with you, we don't always know why" temperature variations occur, he said.
The National Weather Service isn't making any humidity predictions, but the city was, after all, built on a swamp, and it's likely to have at least its usual share of miserable days when legs stick to car seats and the only fun place to be is in a swimming pool.
On an average summer day here, the humidity hovers around 90 percent at sunrise and drops to 50 or 55 percent in the afternoon, Hess said. "But, of course, that's when your temperature is the hottest, so it still feels like really muggy air," he said.
Hess said the art of forecasting is inexact, so even the experts can't tell when the worst stretches will hit. "The state of the art is such that when you're talking 90 days ahead, you can't be more precise," Hess said.
Although many Washingtonians remain convinced each summer is hotter than the last, Hess said this is not so.
"You do have warmer years, and cooler years," he said. "But, if there is any trend on earth, it's such a long-term trend that the average person, including us, can't detect it."
Rainfall, which often means relief from the intense heat, has been scant so far this year -- a total of 14.75 inches, or about three fewer inches than usual. Only 0.05 inches fell in April, instead of the usual 2.9.
But Washington is expected to have the usual amount of rain for the remainder of the summer. In July, that will mean 3.38 inches. In August and September, it will mean 4.40 and 3.22 inches, respectively