The rattling of the cicadas warned of a hot day, and the red dust stirred up by earthmoving machines on Rte. 50 hung over the dried fields of eastern Prince George's County.
In town, five of the six soda machines at the Exxon station on New York Avenue NE were empty, and the sixth was broken. It was, in short, another hot and muggy day -- much like those of the last week, and much like those forecast for the next four to five days.
The heat, unrelieved by significant rain, has ruined crops and forced water restrictions in the Southeast. And it continued to take its toll on the moods of Washington area residents yesterday. Even sweating did not seem to help.
"The sweat, it gets in your eyes," said Scott Bywayy, a construction worker in the District. "Up on the roof, the stone blocks suck in the heat. It's a hell of a hot place."
At National Airport, the high was 97 degrees at 3 p.m. That was well shy of the record of 103 degrees for the date, set in 1887, but it was 9 degrees higher than normal.
The relative humidity was 44 percent yesterday -- high enough to affect your mood but not your health, doctors said. Although 44 percent may not sound high, said National Weather Service forecaster John McCarthy, hot air carries a lot of water: The same amount of moisture in the air at 71 degrees would give a reading of 100 percent relative humidity.
In the District, overheated cars were parked by curbs with their hoods raised. In an adult movie shop on Ninth Street NW, a clerk was ec-static: The customers wanted to stay in the air-conditioned video booths rather than venture onto the steamy sidewalks.
A few blocks away at 11th and E streets NW, Bywayy and Tony Crujeiras were laying concrete. They were wearing hard hats; long, thick trousers, and heavy boots. "The union rules say you can't wear shorts or anything like that," Bywayy explained.
"About the only thing you can do is wear a cutoff shirt. You can't really get around it either, if they tell you to go up there."
Jeanette Cooper of M Street NW was walking to a job interview, her chest sprinkled white with talcum powder. "Sometimes you can't sleep at night with the heat," she said.
"But so far, I'm surviving. I just drink a whole lot of water."
Howard Calandar, a Library of Congress employe spotted laboring down 10th Street NW, was less confident. "It's kind of rough on people over 200 pounds," he said, noting that at 250 pounds he fits into that category.
"It's hard to keep cool. You wear your lightest clothing, but you still aren't cool."
Calandar said he believes that conditions are a little milder in Mount Rainier, where he lives, but still hot enough that he has been busy planning weekend escapes. Last weekend, he said, he managed to escape to Annapolis to swim, and he said he planned to swim in the Rappahannock River in Virginia this weekend.
But even over in Annapolis yesterday, conditions were hot and horrible.
James Gross said he had to make about eight rest stops as he pushed a cart of beer and soda about a quarter-mile uphill, from Mills Liquors on the City Dock to a customer's house. He was spotted on Conduit Street mopping a profusion of sweat from his face with the tail of his shirt.
He pointed to the cans. "Some of these are cold," he said, "but I can't drink any of them.
"I'm not in a rush," he continued. "You have too stop and rest for a couple of minutes."
The American Automobile Association was giving the same sort of advice for motorists. Spokesman Doug Neilson said the AAA had responded to about 900 calls by midafternoon and expected to pass 1,500 by midnight -- well above the average number of 1,050 a day. More than half of the increase, he predicted, would be from heat- related problems.
Neilson said motorists should check their oil, cooling fluid and belts. When stuck in traffic, he said, they should keep at least eight feet from the vehicle in front to avoid hot exhaust fumes, and they should turn off the air conditioner, which strains the engine.
If the car starts to overheat, he said, it sometimes helps to turn on the heater to suck hot air out of the engine.
"Open your windows first, of course," Neilson said