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Heat hits danger zone, with no relief in sight


A potentially deadly combination of heat and humidity brought a high of 102 degrees to downtown Baltimore yesterday, as well as health warnings from weather service officials who said the next five days will bring little relief.

The heat index -- a measure of temperature and humidity that gauges what weather feels like -- hit 110 degrees yesterday, possibly the highest ever in the city, said Bob Melrose, a forecaster at the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

"We don't have records for heat index, but I can't recall it ever getting up this high . . . " he said. "I can't even get the temperature down in our air-conditioned office."

Also known as apparent temperature, the index compares air temperature to relative humidity. It relates how hot the weather "feels" to people, and any index over 105 is cause for precaution, according to weather service officials.

A high temperature of 98 degrees is expected today, and the humidity should push the index over 100 degrees again, the weather service reported.

Such levels mean much higher risks for sunstroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion, weather service officials warned

"It's just not jogging and biking weather," Mr. Melrose said. "You might think you're in great shape, but once you've been out in this for a while and you overexert yourself, your body will start sending signals like something's not right."

The state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has had a heat watch in effect since Thursday, and is advising Marylanders to stay in air-conditioned places such as movie theaters and malls, and to drink plenty of fluids.

Another state agency, the Department of the Environment, issued a "Code Red" ozone health advisory yesterday, warning that unhealthy levels of ozone have been recorded in the region.

Yesterday, the downtown high hit 102 degrees at 4:20 p.m. -- just one degree below the record for July 7 -- making people irritable and uncomfortable.

Vince Dell, a service manager for Modern Comfort Systems air conditioning in Westminster, said he has even received threats from desperate people wanting their air conditioners fixed.

"A lady called in and said she was going to sue us if we didn't get down there because her fish was going to die," Mr. Dell said. "She had a service contract with us. I just said the policy doesn't cover fish."

Mr. Dell has been in the heating and air conditioning business for 14 years, but has noticed a strong shift in the past six years: People can tolerate a heater breaking down much better than an air conditioner on the blink.

"When it's the air conditioner, it's got to be now, turn it on right now," Mr. Dell said.

Warren Hunter, 34, of Baltimore said the heat was enough to drive him to talk to cars.

"I just did," said Mr. Hunter, who was walking south on York Road at Pennsylvania Avenue in Towson. "A car turning [right] took too long to turn. I told the man to hurry up. The heat does that to you."

John Coppola knew it was hot because the snowball trade on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard in Glen Burnie was booming.

By 2 p.m., the stand had doled out 75 snowballs in a variety of flavors, said the 16-year-old, who is spending his second summer working at the stand. On cooler days, he said, he would have sold about 25.

The snowballs seem to keep his customers cool -- none of them was that irritable, he said. "The people are the same as always."

The forecast calls for sunny, hot and humid weather, with temperatures in the 90s, through the weekend. A high of 98 is expected on Monday and 95 on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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