Temperatures in the mid-90s on Monday drove Marilyn Ramirez to the beach at Rocky Point Park, where her children splashed in the Chesapeake Bay. But they probably won't be back at week's end.
With temperatures forecast to rise to 102 degrees by Friday, Ramirez, who is visiting from New Jersey with her two young children — ages 6 and 4 — plans to stay indoors. "It's not recommended to be outside with them," she said.
Temperatures in Central Maryland this week are headed back into the upper 90s for the third time this year as the ferocious heat wave that's been roasting the nation's midsection reaches the East Coast.
National Weather Service forecasters said readings at BWI Marshall Airport could reach 100 degrees as early as Thursday afternoon and top out at 102 on Friday before "cooling" to 98 for the weekend.
The sunshine and heat on Monday led several families to the sand at Miami Beach in the Bowleys Quarters section of Baltimore County. The staff there expect the heat to bring even more by week's end, even if it does reach 100 degrees.
"Honestly, it has been getting a lot more crowded," said Ashley Murray, 20, the assistant manager. "On the really hot days, we see a lot more people than normal."
Lauren DeVore, 27, of White Marsh and her 3-year-old son, Tyler Freeman, were swimming and making sand angels Monday. "I enjoy the heat," DeVore said. But without relief at the beach or a pool, " I'd probably be inside."
She's careful when they go outdoors, she said. After too much sun made her sick as a child, "Now I take the proper precautions." She takes time to lather Tyler with sunblock 20 minutes before heading outside, and she keeps them both hydrated with plenty of fluids.
The week ahead is Baltimore's third foray into the upper 90s this summer. The airport recorded highs of 98 and 97 degrees between May 30 and June 1. The mercury reached 99 and 100 on June 8 and 9.
BWI-Marshall has reported daily highs in the 90s on 11 of the first 18 days of this month, including Sunday (91) and Monday (95). The average daily high temperature for Baltimore in July is 87 or 88 degrees.
The temperatures predicted for the week would bring Baltimore to eight straight days of 90-plus weather, with at least two likely to reach 100 degrees.
"The 100-degree days will become the story," said Steve Zubrick, science officer for the National Weather Service's regional forecast office in Sterling, Va. "Potentially we could have four days in a row of 100 or more … But what I'm thinking is going to happen is that on the weekend we'll see more clouds, and we will not break 100."
BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said the local utility, too, is watching the forecast. The utility is making staff adjustments to get ready for possible heat-related power outages this week. "We do expect to see usage increase gradually as the weather heats up," she said. "It's possible we may set a seasonal usage peak this week."
BGE's power consumption peak so far this summer was 6,772 megawatts, on June 9, when the mercury hit 100 at BWI. That's lower than last year's peak usage, and well below the 7,198 megawatt summertime record set on Aug. 3, 2006.
"We encourage our customers to help … by conserving whenever and wherever they can," Foy said. That includes delaying the use of dryers, dishwashers and other big electric appliances until after 9 p.m., or keeping thermostats at 78 degrees or higher, she said. Also, close the blinds during the day and make sure ceiling fans are blowing down, not up in summer.
The scorching weather comes courtesy of a big high-pressure system that's been drifting slowly across the country since last week. The clockwise circulation around the high has been pulling hot, humid air north from the Gulf of Mexico, driving up temperatures and humidity throughout the Mississippi Valley.
As that high moves slowly eastward and off the Atlantic coast this week, it will become the sort of "Bermuda High" infamous for stoking summer heat waves in the Mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast.
Meteorologists at AccuWeather.com expect triple-digit readings throughout the Plains states, the South and the Midwest during the first half of the week, with 90-plus readings in more than 40 of the lower 48 states.
Zubrick said there have already been fatalities to the west as temperatures topped 100 and heat index readings reached 120 or more. "We're still seeing reports from across the country of people leaving their pets, even their children, in cars, and you're getting fatalities. It's awful. They just forget."
By week's end, the torrid weather will reach tens of millions more Americans as readings rise to 100 degrees or more in the big East Coast cities, including Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York.
Baltimore can be expected to declare Code Red heat alerts as heat index readings — a measure of the combined effects of heat and humidity — begin to reach 105 degrees. That will open additional cooling centers, put more Emergency Medical Services (EMS) units into service, and send workers out to check on vulnerable residents.
State public health officials reminded Marylanders to check on relatives and neighbors who may be especially vulnerable to the heat, a factor in at least six deaths in the state this season. All six people had underlying illnesses, a key worry, especially for the elderly, said Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, assistant director for environmental health at the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"It's not age, per se, as much as that as we get older, we develop more accompanying illness," he said.
In hot weather, as we sweat and become dehydrated, blood pressure falls. The heart compensates for the heat and falling pressure by beating faster and with more force, Mitchell explained. "Both put stress on the cardiac muscle" and on the lungs. And for people with heart or lung disease, that can lead to fatal arrhythmias or heart attacks.
People with kidney disease may also lose vital electrolytes as they sweat — chiefly sodium and potassium critical to proper heart function. Medications such as diuretics used to treat high blood pressure can make the problem worse.
Mitchell said key signs of trouble include drowsiness or reduced mental alertness, a rapid pulse, or skin that feels hot and dry. People with those signs "should be relocated immediately to a cooler place or a hospital."
Air pollution will just make things worse.
Heat, sunshine and engine exhaust were already combining Monday to cook up a nasty brew of air pollutants, putting Central Maryland counties under a Code Orange air-quality alert. Key pollutants rose to levels considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. More such alerts are possible this week as the high temperatures, sunshine and engine exhaust continue to foul the air.
Temperatures in triple digits don't occur every year in Baltimore. There were none in 2008 or 2009. But they're not uncommon.
We've reached 100 degrees once already this summer (June 9). Last summer there were seven days with highs of 100 to 105 degrees, tying the record set in 1930 and matched in 1988. Four of those 100-plus days last year set new daily high-temperature records.