The hot, humid air parked above Washington like the house guest that wouldn't leave has dug in for another week. As air conditioners droned on yesterday and the populace fumbled for new ways to describe the heat--oppressive, miserable, unkind--weather forecasters spotted no relief.
"The heat's just going to continue onward," declared Bob Smerbeck, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc., as Washington temperatures climbed toward a high of 98. "There's a core of hot air that's just sitting over the midsection of the country." Like Satan's courier, the prevailing wind keeps carrying the stuff here.
Indeed, the forecast appears a monochromatic landscape of dull pain, with high temperatures in the mid-90s stretching on to next weekend. Humidity should turn down a tad today and stay there tomorrow. Wednesday offers a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm to complement last night's show of thunder and lightning. But the basic picture prevails.
Adding insult to injury, meteorologists pronounce the heat unremarkable, our suffering not worthy of remembrance by future generations. No record temperatures here, just a slightly hotter July than is typical in these parts. No eye-catching meteorological patterns. Just the same mind-numbing formation for days on end.
While the average high temperature for July in Washington is just less than 90, this year has seen average highs of about 92. Counting yesterday, 16 of July's first 25 days have exceeded the 90 mark.
"It's pretty seasonable," said Howard Silverman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, sounding utterly unimpressed.
Cabin fever is supposed to be a winter phenomenon, not part of beach season. But the lazy somnolence of life around the air conditioner has induced torpor, driving some to actually go outside.
"All you can do is go from air-conditioned building to air-conditioned building," complained John Stoltz, 28, who was taking refuge with his wife in the museums on the Mall. "That's about it."
Some tourists seemed to take pleasure in defying the heat, insisting they could tolerate it. A few actually called it pleasant, certainly not as bad as "back home"--invariably a southern state such as Alabama or Florida.
"Once you get above 90 degrees it's all the same," asserted Buddy Caldwell, 31, a visitor from Charlotte, on his way out of the White House.
With her two daughters in tow, Greta Schnick, 46, of Delavan, Wis., praised the heat: "It wraps around me like a warm blanket." Even as she spoke, she hopped from foot to foot lest her soles melt on the asphalt, confessing, "It's just a little warm."
Regional utility companies, straining to produce the electricity powering all those air conditioners, spoke of no troubles during the day yesterday.
"Over the weekend we tend to get a respite," said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. When people return to offices today and more air conditioners are turned on, the demand for power will likely swell.
But a storm that rumbled through the region last night resulted in several reported lightning strikes and left nearly 10,000 people without power in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, officials said.
Fairfax County firefighters scrambled at about 10 p.m. to fight two house fires apparently sparked by lightning, one in the Reston area and the other near Dulles International Airport.
At about the same time in Montgomery County, lightning caused a blaze at a house in the Darnestown area. The fire, in the 13100 block of Chestnut Oak Drive, caused about $250,000 in damage to a two-story, single-family home, an official said.
"The homeowners were downstairs. They had a tremendous jolt of lightning, and all their appliances and everything kind of arced and sparked," said Capt. Dan Gilman, a Montgomery County fire spokesman. "They began to smell smoke, and then the second-floor smoke detector activated. They evacuated the home safely."
In the Fredericksburg and Norfolk areas, crews with Virginia Power worked yesterday to reconnect households to the power grid, after thunderstorms swept through on Saturday afternoon, yanking down lines and rendering as many as 100,000 homes powerless.
Power had been restored to all but about 10,000 of those homes by yesterday afternoon, said spokesman Jim Norvelle. The rest were expected to be back up by this morning.
But the storms weren't enough to ease the worries of farmers and gardeners in the area. Andthe Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which supplies drinking water for 1.6 million area residents, continued to release water from the Jennings Randolph reservoir in western Maryland to supplement the Potomac River, whose flow has been severely curtailed by the drought. The Potomac provides most of the Washington area's water.
Regional authorities have been sending about 100 million gallons daily from the reservoir to the Potomac, said Marjorie Johnson, a spokeswoman for the commission. Once this month, the commission also emptied water from Little Seneca reservoir in Montgomery County.
"Neither had ever been released before," Johnson said. The releases have "stabilized" the Potomac's flow, but the river is still running low, she said.
There are, in theory, several scenarios that could chase away this monotonous weather. A tropical storm could thunder in off the Gulf of Mexico and send rain. The jet stream--that artery of air dividing hot from cold--might forsake its summer nesting grounds above southern Canada and venture downward. But the forecasters see no such inclination, and the Canadians appear reluctant to share their pipeline of pleasant air.
"We're quite satisfied," said Judy Cornell, co-owner of Inverness Falls Resort in the Canadian province of Manitoba, where yesterday brought cool, overcast skies that threatened to rain.
Without hint of shame, she claimed entitlement to the cloud cover for the people of Canada, complaining, "We've had a real run of hot, hot weather." Details came in Celsius, but a Washington Post investigation placed Manitoba's highs in the mid-80s, more than 10 degrees lower than here.
"It's awful down there, isn't it?" Cornell said. "We don't want it."