The Washington area, in the midst of one of the driest Aprils on record, experienced record-breaking heat yesterday only weeks after shivering in unseasonable cold and snow flurries. And while the humidity was relatively low, pollen levels soared to uncomfortable levels.
Temperatures hit 93 degrees yesterday afternoon, four degrees above the previous record for the date set in 1902.
So far this month, the area has had a mere driblet of 0.03 inches of rain, 2 inches below normal. The lowest ever recorded for April was 0.26 in 1942, according to the National Weather Service.
The old low may retain its place in the record books. Showers are expected Thursday night or Friday, weather service forecaster Scott Prosise said.
Today's forecast is for "more of the same," sunny and hot with highs expected near 90 degrees. Wednesday should be partly cloudy, with the high dipping down to the low- to mid-80s.
Along with parched lawns and parched lips, the lack of rainfall has contributed to a number of brush fires at area parks which have burned large amounts of acreage. Virginia State agriculture experts are monitoring whether dry conditions endanger the state's crops.
Water became so scarce over the weekend in two areas of Virginia that officials in Newport News and Chesterfield County near Richmond asked nearby residents to stop watering their lawns, filling swimming pools or washing their cars until water reserves rise.
The Potomac River is down about a foot from normal levels at the Little Falls gauging station, a National Park Service spokesman said. But the Washington area is not expected to suffer any water shortages that would necessitate water-use restrictions, according to officials at the Washington Aqueduct and the D.C. Public Works Department.
"We have drought exercises every year . . . but 1966 was the last year we had a real drought," said Carl Johnson, chief of the D.C. bureau of water services. "We are not in an emergency state now."
"There is plenty of water in the Potomac" to serve local needs, said Perry Costas, deputy chief of the Washington Aqueduct.
So far this year, Washington has had 7.09 inches of rain, compared with 15.76 last year and 10.97 in a normal year, according to National Weather Service forecasters.
Area health experts say they have seen more people in the past few days with red eyes, sore throats, breathing problems and allergic reactions because of the pollen. The level of tree pollen skyrocketed over the weekend, well above a comfortable level for persons with allergies, according to the D.C. Lung Association.
"It was like snow yesterday," Vivienne Stearns of Greater Southeast Hospital said of the pollen. "Everyone in the office is complaining about sore throats, and we had to give one woman a breathing treatment."
Moulton Avery, executive director of the Center for Environmental Physiology, said the dryness alone will not cause health problems but that the excessive heat this early in the season is a special hazard.
"People haven't had a chance to adjust to the season," Avery said. Heart failure is a greater risk than heat stroke when temperatures get to high levels, he said, especially for older people.
Others who are at risk are those who go out into the heat after spending most of their time in air conditioning, persons with heart disease or emphysema, and persons taking certain medications, such as tranquilizers, antidepressants, antihistamines, narcotics, sedatives and amphetamines, Avery said.
The problem can get particularly acute in the city because there is a "heat island effect" created on the upper stories of high-rise buildings, particularly those without cross-ventilation, he added.
Two fires broke out near the Quantico Marine Base late last week, burning between 75 and 100 acres in one blaze and about 36 acres in the other in Prince William Forest Park, said National Park Service spokesman Earl Kittleman.
The park service issued a fire danger alert last week because of the lack of rain, heat, high winds and "the slow progression of vegetative greenup," which Kittleman translated as "taking a long time for spring to get here."
The first cutting of hay in Virginia probably will be light, and livestock producers may have to buy feed, said Red Rowley, assistant Virginia statistician. If rains do not come soon, farmers may have difficulty with corn and soybean planting, he said.