Washington's weather skipped unceremoniously over the rest of spring and slammed straight into summer yesterday, bringing sunburn, sweat and near record-breaking temperatures to the area.
Lunch-break crowds, who were reeling from the last bitter chill of winter as recently as two weeks ago, basked in downtown parks yesterday as the official National Weather Service thermometer at National Airport hit 91 degrees, two degrees shy of the record for the date set in 1973.
Records fell in other cities, including Baltimore, where a scorching 95 degrees was registered at the Inner Harbor, as a sustained heat wave gripped much of the East Coast and Midwest.
Forecasters were calling for sunshine and temperatures hovering around 90 degrees again today.
Yesterday's heat was tempered somewhat by intermittent breezes, which peaked at 23 miles per hour. But conditions were hard on hay fever and other allergy sufferers, as the pollen count in Washington jumped to 196, considered in the "unhealthy range" by the D.C. Lung Assocation. "It is advisable for people with allergies to stay inside," said association spokeswoman Mary London.
Forecasters said there is little change expected in the way of cooler temperatures or badly needed rain. Some rain may come by next Wednesday or Thursday, said weather service forecaster Joe Cefaretti, "but as far as really cooler air goes, there's nothing on the chart."
Only 0.03 of an inch of precipitation has been recorded at National Airport so far in April, and Maryland state foresters said yesterday that dry weather, brisk winds and low humidity have helped trigger an unusual number of brush and forest fire reports in recent weeks.
A state Forest and Park Service spokeswoman said the service has received 560 fire reports so far this year, more than half of them since March 22.
In Anne Arundel County, firefighters coped with more than 35 brush fires yesterday, and county fire officials ordered a ban on all open burning until at least Monday.
The culprit in all this is a massive high-pressure area over the Atlantic coast that is pumping warm dry air into the region from the south and just doesn't want to move.
Yesterday's temperature started out comfortably with a low of 64 degrees at 6 a.m., but shot up quickly, spurting 10 degrees from 71 to 81 between 8 and 9 a.m. and hitting 89 by noon. It then sat at 91 from 2 to 4 p.m. before slowly sliding at the end of the day. It was expected to reach the low 60s during the night.
At the National Arboretum in northeast Washington, nurserymen welcomed the warmth but warned that continued dry weather could cut short the blooming period for many spring flowers.
"The recent cool weather held things back, and now the warm weather is going to bring things out very quickly," said Erik Neuman at the arboretum where thousands of trees and shrubs are maintained in 32 formal gardens and collections. "If it stays dry, the blooming period could be very short."
Just 10 days ago, on April 10, Washington's temperature fell to a record-tying 29 degrees, and snow flurries occurred throughout the area on the days after Easter, April 8 and 9.
Elsewhere in the nation, a cold air wave reversed spring conditions in the upper Rockies, bringing rain and snow to parts of Nevada, Oregon, Montana and Utah. Gusty winds originating on the Pacific Coast blew dust and sand across southern California and the Southwest, prompting officials to issue high wind warnings for the Mojave Desert, Death Valley and parts of New Mexico and west Texas.