Remember smog alerts? Liver-colored sky? Searing, simmering air that hangs on for days?
Those are the summer days that Washingtonians love to complain about. This year, they went missing.
There have been only eight days this summer in which temperatures reached 90 degrees at Reagan National Airport -- the fewest since 1906. On average, the airport records 26 days that hot. In August, there was only one such day, provoking the normally restrained National Weather Service to call the month "rather pleasant."
Yes, it was a little rainier than usual, which was both good and bad. But the most notable feature of June, July and August, according to meteorologists, was the absence of extreme heat. Dulles International Airport had only six days that hit 90 or more, well below the average of 24. Baltimore-Washington International Airport had eight, compared with its average of 22.
"We have just not gotten the stagnant, hot, sleazy air masses that tend to congregate over this region in July and August," said Patrick Michaels, the Virginia state climatologist. "The next time we have a normal summer in Washington, people are going to think it's really unusual."
This was a good summer to drive to work without guilt. There have been only two Code Red days since June. Neither was predicted, so air quality officials did not issue warnings to leave the car at home, turn off the gas lawn mower and exercise indoors.
In the District, officials said they had to open cooling centers only about a half-dozen times to give the elderly and those without air conditioning relief from the heat. That was far fewer than usual, according to Jo'Ellen Countee, spokeswoman for the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.
The explanation for the absence of withering heat in Washington has to do, as it often does in summer, with the Bermuda high. Usually, a high-pressure system sits over the region in summer and prevents much weather activity from coming in. Heat builds up each day, producing afternoon thunderstorms. But they do not get rid of the warmth, and the cycle goes on.
This year, though, according to National Weather Service meteorologist John Darnley, the high was weak, which allowed weather fronts to roar through regularly from the Midwest. Those brought in rain, but also kept temperatures down. "It made a very comfortable summer," he said.
The statistics show that there was more rain than usual in June, July and August, but less than there was last summer. At National, it has been the 19th wettest summer on record, with more than 161/2 inches of rain. (Nearly a quarter of that was from what remained of Bonnie and Charley, the back-to-back tropical systems.) Last summer was the 11th wettest. Records go back to 1871.
The regular rainfalls have been good for farmers, gardeners and landscapers. Lawns have begun to brown only in the past couple of weeks, but were thriving until then. "We get a couple of days [of rain] and then it lays off," said the manager of Fairway Lawn Care in Silver Spring. "In our business, it's great."
Rodney Pryor is not so sure. Pryor, the superintendent of revenue resources for the Northern Virginia Park Authority, said the rain reduced patronage by 20 percent at the pools and golf courses he oversees.
Of 88 operating days so far, 34 had rain that affected the number of visitors, he said. "Several weekends, it was a sunny day, but there was a flood warning and people made other plans. And the low 80s is not really swimming pool weather."
At the privately run Arlington Forest Club pool yesterday, splashing and shouting could be heard as the manager on duty, Oleg Gudym, summed up a mixed season during a telephone interview. This weekend, Labor Day, is traditionally the last big weekend to swim, before students head back to class.
"The kids are sad," he said. "The parents, not as much."