Hot enough for you?
B.V. Reddy, a crew member working yesterday on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, held an electronic device over the recently poured asphalt and looked at the temperature reading: 262 degrees.
That was too hot. As the air around Reddy reached 95 degrees and the humidity made it feel even hotter, this was not an ideal day to lay asphalt, which was in danger of melting and separating, possibly resulting in potholes.
"The heat doesn't help" the asphalt cool, said project inspector Jimmy Hamrick as he gulped from a bottle of water. "It holds and retains the temperature."
Across the Washington area, workers, residents and travelers endured the year's 28th day of temperatures in the 90s -- in what experts said is the hottest summer in the past few years. Today's temperature is predicted to reach the mid-90s.
At a funeral for D.C. police Officer James C. McBride, an aid vehicle was set up outside All Souls Church, Unitarian in Adams Morgan, offering water and refreshments to the hundreds of officers in full dress uniforms, as well as other mourners. The scene was a grim reminder that McBride died last week after consuming too much water during a bicycle training ride.
The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the D.C. area until 8 tonight and warned residents to take such precautions as avoiding outdoor activities and drinking plenty of water.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments declared the season's first Code Red day for area air quality and warned people who have breathing problems to be careful.
Because of Code Red, which carries heat-illness warnings and urges motorists to stay off roads, several suburban transit systems offered free rides to encourage people not to use cars. Metrobus riders in the District, however, still were charged.
The heat this year has increased dramatically over last year, when 11 days were in the 90s through Aug. 14, according to unofficial data from the National Weather Service.
Mike McAuliffe, a meteorologist with accuweather.com, said this is the hottest summer in the area since 2002, which had 49 days in the 90s and two days above 100 degrees.
He predicted that the temperature in the District will reach 96 today, with increased humidity, which could push the heat index well over 100.
"What happens when the humidity increases, the sweat on the skin does not evaporate as readily," McAuliffe said.
"The air already has too much moisture. Sweat is to cool the body but if it does not evaporate, the body does not cool as readily. So that makes you susceptible to heat exhaustion or heat stroke."
As the temperature rose, it was even hotter on the highway. Construction crews spread layer upon layer of 300-degree asphalt on the Capital Beltway's inner loop to realign a half-mile stretch.
Workers in jeans and heavy-soled boots shoveled, raked and shaped the coarse, steamy mixture into the smooth surface, for a road leading from the Wilson Bridge to Virginia.
To connect the old section with the gentle curve of the new one, workers are building up the road with 21/2 feet of asphalt. Each layer must cool to about 150 degrees before the next pile can be poured.
After a cold-water truck sprinkled the lane, steam rose from the fresh tar like from rocks in a sauna.
The weather did not deter some cyclists and walkers from visiting the South Washington Street overpass in Alexandria to watch the work.
Paul Johnson, an engineer, biked from his home in Fairfax County to see how the crew handled the curving of the new road and the challenge of the traffic.
"It's fascinating," Johnson said. He stood there, sweaty but unbowed, preparing for the hot trip home.