Mokhtar Sherif packed up his food cart late Wednesday afternoon, having spent the hottest day of the year so far hovering over an enclosed steam table and serving up boiled hot dogs slathered with mustard.

He pointed to a blue cooler full of ice that had served as his seat since 6 a.m. at the corner of L Street and Connecticut Avenue NW. But the cooling effect had been minimal, leaving him too sweaty and tired to do much but state the obvious:

“It’s too hot,” he said, mopping his forehead with a worn pink towel draped around his neck. “And tomorrow’s going to be worse.”

Soaring temperatures on Wednesday marked the start of an expected three-day heat wave, with temperatures peaking at around 98 degrees in the afternoon and forecast to reach at least 99 Thursday before cooling down for the weekend. Wednesday’s high was one degree short of the highest recorded temperature for the day.

The summer solstice, Wednesday was also a day of coping, as local governments tried to help residents deal with the uncompromising sun.

Anthony Mayers, 13, of Stevensville, Md., soars on a rope above a quarry outside of Baltimore on the first day ofsummer. (Bonnie Jo Mount/WASHINGTON POST)

The District’s trash collection began an hour early Wednesday, as it will Thursday and Friday, to keep workers and trash out of the heat. Metro suspended its no-drinking policy for water in buses, trains and stations so riders can keep cool, and the city extended hours at more than a dozen public pools.

Wednesday’s heat was not an anomaly. A patch of high pressure in the atmosphere led to highs across America east of the Great Plains, said Jared Klein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

That, combined with heat that’s built up in the southern part of the nation, where conditions have been dry, drove up temperatures, Klein said.

“It’s a pretty common pattern in the summer,” he added.

The day began hot, but a steady breeze until midday kept the worst effects at bay. Occasionally, the sun would disappear behind a thin cloud, giving a reprieve to the thousands of workers, tourists and residents outside.

Taking into account humidity, it felt like it was between 100 and 105 degrees, said Kevin Witt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

Marilyn Marshall created her own shade, holding a pink and white umbrella over her head while walking downtown. “I am not crazy,” she said. “I am trying to keep the sun off of me. . . . Lord have mercy.”

The advice from authorities was simple: Stay indoors if possible. Other than that, wear sunscreen, keep hydrated, and duck into air-conditioned government buildings, public libraries or recreation centers if the heat gets too heavy, said Robyn Johnson, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency.

In Montgomery County, Rockville officials designated four community facilities as cooling centers to provide much-needed air conditioning for residents. Prince George’s County opened seven air-conditioned cooling locations, including two reserved for seniors.

But according to fire officials, the heat hadn’t unusually affected anyone’s health.

D.C. Battalion Fire Chief Brian Lee said the department experienced “nothing out of the ordinary.” Capt. Oscar Garcia of the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services said the department had dispatched emergency services for two heat-related incidents.

But everyone is still bracing for Thursday, when the temperature could break 100.

Sherif, in his food cart, feared a long, hot summer.

“What are we going to do in July?” he lamented.

Staff writers Maggie Fazeli Fard, Victor Zapana, Miranda S. Spivack, Nikita Stewart and Katherine Shaver contributed to this report.