Health officials said Tuesday they have linked two more deaths to the heat wave and derecho storm that struck Maryland earlier this month, and heat contributed to three other deaths since that crisis ended.
A Baltimore man and Worcester County man brought to 20 the total heat-related casualties from a 12-day stretch with temperatures 90 degrees and higher, which also included the powerful windstorm. Another three Marylanders died during the storm June 29.
Health officials have not released further details on the casualties. Generally, the cases involve people who have underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, and many also may have lacked air-conditioning because of the extended power outages the derecho caused, health officials said.
A weekly report state health officials release on heat-related illnesses and deaths specified that the three most recent deaths did not occur during the heat wave that spanned June 29 to July 8. The specific dates of the deaths are not included in the report.
All but three days in July so far have reached 90 degrees or hotter at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, including three days at 100 degrees or above. BWI reached 100 degrees Tuesday, one degree below the record for the date set in 1988.
Dr. David R. Fowler, the state's chief medical examiner, said the summer weather and increased outdoor activity have made his office about 50 percent busier than normal. Each day, the office has been performing about 18 autopsies and evaluating another 18 suspicious deaths that did not require autopsies, up from about 12 apiece typically.
The chief medical examiner's office reviews all suspicious or unusual deaths. Many deaths that end up being confirmed as heat-related don't require autopsies if the person had a previously documented medical condition and was found in a hot environment, Fowler said.
Highs are forecast to reach the upper 90s or around 100 degrees again Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. A heat advisory is in effect from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., with heat index values of 105 degrees expected. Highs in the mid-90s are forecast Thursday.
It's possible that the heat could prompt power grid officials to ask Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials to activate the utility's Peak Rewards program Wednesday, BGE spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said. The program cycles participating customers' air conditioners in exchange for bill credits.
Amid Tuesday's heat, BGE conducted its first Peak Rewards activation this summer in response to high wholesale energy prices, said Ruth Kiselewich, who heads the program for BGE. Customers' air conditioners were shut off periodically for 30 minutes at a time from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Hot weather and high demand for electricity caused the energy prices to spike and prompted utilities in other parts of the grid to activate emergency plans like Peak Rewards, Kiselewich said. Activating the programs helps lower energy prices by reducing demand for power.