Marylanders could only steam at the weather yesterday as high humidity combined with record-breaking temperatures to produce dangerous conditions.
The hot, heavy air cooked up to 102 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 2:20 p.m., shattering a record for the date of 98 degrees set in 1988.
But with humidity exceeding 50 percent, it felt far worse -- with a "heat index" reaching 124 degrees at BWI and perhaps even higher levels in Baltimore, where WBAL-TV recorded a high of 104 degrees at its Television Hill monitoring station.
"I've been here 24 years, and I would have to say I don't remember anything worse," said Amet Figueroa, a National Weather Service forecaster at BWI. "It just has been stifling and oppressive. They're the words I would use."
For the fourth straight day, the state Department of the Environment reported unhealthy air quality with a "code red" pollution alert -- even without the traffic and weekday effusion of industrial pollutants.
The miserable heat was tempered only by its timing on the weekend, when weekday workers could stay home, seek out shade, play in a pool or head for the ocean. But even in Ocean City, where the sea keeps temperatures cooler, the high reached 94 yesterday, according to the Coast Guard.
It did not appear from forecasts yesterday that the heat would be departing soon -- only moderating slightly into the 90s through mid-week. Mr. Figueroa said a cool front originating in Canada was expected to bring some relief today -- highs in the mid-90s.
The heat wave prompted renewed warnings, particularly to the elderly and those with health ailments -- to avoid the outdoors, drink ample fluids and wear loose clothing.
One attempt to keep cool turned tragic yesterday.
A 9-year-old girl drowned yesterday afternoon in a backyard swimming pool during a church gathering in the White Marsh area, Baltimore County authorities said.
Monchel Ivett Shepherd, of the 800 block of Hillman Court in Baltimore, was pronounced dead at Franklin Square Hospital. Police said she was at a swim party and picnic held by Greater Grace World Outreach at a home on Chapel Hill Drive.
As children were being gathered to return home about 1:20 p.m., police said, adult chaperones realized that Monchel was missing. She was found unconscious in the deep end of the pool.
Later in the afternoon, the numbers of patients entering hospitals for heat-related ailments appeared to be on the rise.
"In the last hour, we've gotten five people into the emergency room. It's all heat-related -- heat exhaustion, heat stroke and heat cramps," Judy Collins, a nursing supervisor at Howard County General Hospital nursing supervisor, said about 6:30 p.m.
Remarkable in yesterday's heat was an outdoor wedding
reception in Southwest Baltimore, where nuptial guests did what they could to keep cool.
The bride, Helen Butts, dressed for the occasion -- wearing a white sleeveless gown made of lace over silk. But her husband, Jeffrey Cappella of Baltimore, sweated through the ceremony in a dark blue suit.
In a shady, breezy picnic area in Druid Hill Park, a group of about 50 people with the Catonsville YMCA and Taylor's Karate of Baltimore had a cookout.
About 30 children at the picnic squirted water guns on each other and played tag, while their elders lounged on the grass or lawn chairs.
Elsewhere in the city, many streets appeared virtually empty and eerily silent as the heat shimmered off the asphalt.
It was a day when you could divide the population into two kinds of people: those who had working air-conditioning and those who wished they did.
Les Sadler of Cool Wolf Air-Conditioning and Heating in Essex, reported he had 47 repair calls yesterday and Friday. "It's insane out there," Mr. Sadler said. "I'm soaking wet and I've just come home to jump in a cool shower and then get back out there."