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Heat wave is burning in the heart of Baltimore


Step aside, Cal. There's another streak cooking in Baltimore this summer.

If temperatures reach at least 90 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport today through Wednesday, the current heat wave will become the longest in at least 45 years.

So far, forecasters think we're in for more oppressive heat. As of yesterday afternoon, the National Weather Service predicted a high of

"around 90" for today -- with temperatures escalating by early next week. Cooler weather, they say, is nowhere in sight.

"In meteorological terms, it's kind of neat," Jose Marrero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at the airport. "You've got something going."

Since July 12, the thermometer has registered 90 degrees or above at BWI for 16 straight days. The hottest was a molten 102 degrees on Saturday, July 15.

The record was set in the summer of 1988, when temperatures reached 90 or above for 21 days in a row. On two of those days, temperatures hit 100 or above.

That was the longest heat wave at BWI since they started keeping records there in 1950.

This summer, Baltimore is suffering through a stretch of bad air.

So far, the Baltimore-Washington area has had 10 days of "code red" alerts, meaning the region has exceeded the federal standard for ground-level ozone. That's just one day less than during all of last year, when the region exceeded standards more than any other metropolitan area on the East Coast.

Brewed from the emissions of motor vehicles, power plants and thousands of other sources, smog forms when hot, summer sun causes hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides to combine in the air.

During a "code red" alert, people with respiratory problems are advised to remain indoors. Others are asked to limit driving, ride public transportation and avoid using gasoline-powered lawn mowers.

The air quality index has four levels -- green, yellow, orange and red -- with green the cleanest and red the dirtiest.

Today, forecasters expect "code yellow" conditions. Residents are asked to consolidate trips and errands, limit engine idling and reset thermostats to 78 degrees.

Though the air in the next few days may tighten your chest, smog alerts occur far less frequently than in the 1980s, before the revised Clean Air Act of 1990 began a crackdown on emissions.

From 1982 through 1989, ozone in the Baltimore area exceeded the federal standard for 20 days a year on average, compared with fewer than 10 days per year since 1990, says the Baltimore Alliance for Clean Air Progress, a coalition of business and civic groups. For example, in 1988, Baltimore already had recorded 25 smog alerts by July 27.

The 1988 heat wave broke dramatically. On Aug. 19 of that year, temperatures plummeted from 90-plus to a high of 76 at the airport. The next day, the high was just 69.

No such dramatic relief is expected this year, and the current heat isn't really all that unusual, Mr. Marrero said. "It's just normal Baltimore weather: hot, humid and hazy," he said.

And while Cal Ripken Jr. may be on track to break Lou Gehrig's streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games, there's no way the current heat wave will last that long.

We hope.

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