An unpleasant mix of soaring temperatures and suffocating humidity hit the Washington area for the third consecutive day yesterday, closing schools, stalling cars and robbing residents of the energy to do much of anything but suffer and complain.
As temperatures rose to a high of 94, productivity went down. Way down.
Five servicemen participating in a farewell ceremony for Marine Commandant P.X. Kelley passed out from exhaustion on the grassy plain of Summerall Field at Fort Myer. On sidewalks in the District, street vendors closed shop hours early as sales came to a standstill in the heat.
Across the metropolitan area, people grumbled about a soggy, listless feeling and vowed to flee work early for more sensible pursuits. Sure enough, by late afternoon, crowds had gathered at many public swimming pools, and Virginia Power was reporting its second-highest demand for electricity this year.
All public schoools were closed early in Prince George's County, and officials in Fairfax and Prince William counties dismissed some schools that do not have air conditioning.
The American Automobile Association said calls for emergency road service were up 20 percent because of cars overheating.
Washington's horse-drawn carriages didn't have that problem. The Washington Humane Society ordered them off the streets, acting under its authority to enforce an 1871 D.C. law against overworking horses.
"It's days like this that I don't want to live in Washington," said Susan Poswistilo, a Justice Department lawyer, as she walked with crutches along K Street NW in a cast from a recent leg injury.
Five servicemen must know how she feels. They were temporarily felled by the heat in the presence of the vice president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as they marched in a ceremony for Kelly and retiring Gen. John A. Wickham Jr.
Coast Guard Ens. Mark Metoyer, one of those who collapsed to the grass, was able to finish the march after being helped up, but was still stung with embarrassment in an interview later. "Be gentle," Metoyer urged a reporter.
Bodies weren't the only things falling yesterday. Sales were so poor for Abdul Niazi, who sells clothes and souvenirs on a K Street sidewalk, that he closed shop at 2 p.m. -- four hours early.
"We have to do our business or we don't eat," said Niazi.
While Niazi's sales dropped, on the road beside him tempers rose.
"The drivers are a lot more aggressive in the heat," said James Martin, a bicycle courier. "You hear a lot more horns."
Although yesterday's weather was suffocating enough, the high recorded at National Airport fell short of the record of 99 degrees set on June 15, 1964. The heat will continue throughout the week, with temperatures expected to be in the low 90s and high 80s until Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
As the sweltering temperatures continue, residents with air conditioners can expect to see their electricity use rise higher each day, according to a supervisor with Virginia Power. Electricity use has a "pyramid effect" during prolonged heat, the supervisor said, because a house's insulation becomes less effective the longer temperatures stay high.
School officials said they must make judgments about whether to keep schools open. About half the schools are air-conditioned in the District and Prince George's County, for example, but Prince George's released all 170 of its schools an hour early when temperatures at some neared 100 degrees, a spokesman said.
District school officials, by contrast, decided "It's one of those grin-and-bear-it days," said spokeswoman Janis Cromer.
Some people found the weather easier to grin and bear than others. Hecht's department stores, for example, usually find that sales rise during hot weather, as people seek refuge inside air-conditioned stores, and spend heavily on swimsuits and other summerwear, company spokeswoman Peggy Disney said.
And Liz Haigh, who spends most of her days working outdoors with a landscaping company, said she found yesterday almost pleasant. "This is no sweat," said Haigh. "You stay in the shade and drink a lot of iced tea. You get used to it." Staff writers George C. Wilson, Sandra Evans, Evelyn Hsu and Leah Y. Latimer contributed to this report.