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Spirits rise with lower humidity


What a difference a degree and a day make.

Yesterday's high temperature fell by only 1 degree from Saturday's high of 97, but there seemed to be a sweet respite for those sweltering in the 19th straight day of readings of 90 degrees or higher.

"Absolutely delightful -- positively beautiful!" said Patrick Martin of East Baltimore, lying in the relatively cool shade of a tree at the Italian Festival in Patterson Park.

"I don't know how hot it is," he said, "but it seems a lot cooler than it's been for a long while."

The operative word was "seems."

Temperatures peaked yesterday at 96 degrees at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. But the humidity was in the mid-30s -- a dramatic improvement over the levels of 50 percent and higher that have made the July heat wave so miserable, producing "heat index" figures as high as 125 degrees.

Humidity is to heat what wind is to cold, said National Weather Service forecaster Amet Figueroa.

At one point yesterday when the temperature dropped to 94, it felt like "only" 91 or 92, he said.

Wow -- no wonder people in convertibles were driving with their tops down, players were filling tennis courts, and drivers of cars with air conditioning were opening their windows to let in fresh easterly breezes.

Well, some people anyway.

Mr. Figueroa, who acknowledges he's "not much of a heat man," expects the Baltimore area to break the 1988 record of 21 straight days of 90-plus temperatures this week.

Forecasts call for temperatures in the mid-90s through Friday, and the record would fall Wednesday.

But Mr. Figueroa said that as far as he's concerned, "we don't have to go any further." This is already the worst heat wave he's experienced in 24 years of weather forecasting.

"Really oppressive, memorable heat," he said.

Syema Muzaffar, a postdoctoral student at the Johns Hopkins University, didn't let the heat stop her from logging her regular laps around the school's track yesterday.

"There are probably more people swimming than runners here," she said, counting herself and just one other jogger in the late afternoon.

Exercising, she said, should not stop because of the heat.

"There are those, probably the majority, who constantly complain about the heat," she said. "The healthier way is to accept the weather and deal with it."

The heat created a brisk business at Oriole Park at Camden Yards for anything chilled, and long lines for lemonade and bottled water filled the concourse all day yesterday, vendors said.

Brisk sales of sodas and lemon ices also kept vendors busy in the stands at yesterday's game between the Birds and the Chicago White Sox. But sales of the traditional ballpark favorites were flagging.

Fans were not opting for as much beer, pizza, hot dogs and other ballpark staples -- it was simply too hot, vendors said.

There was no such sluggishness at the Italian Festival, where Aldo Vitale was busy filling cannoli shells and making espresso throughout the day.

Hot espresso coffee "is very ethnic, and people have to have their [demitasse] every day" regardless of the heat, he said.

The heat also seemed to have little effect on diners at Jim and Och Park's kimchi pot at their Towson restaurant.

Kimchi, a dish of Chinese cabbage, hot peppers, garlic, green onions and anchovy sauce, has been known to bring tears to the eyes of some diners.

People claim stuffed sinuses have miraculously opened after a few mouthfuls of kimchi; and, yes, it can make diners sweat.

"Koreans believe in meeting heat with heat," said Dr. Park, a gynecologist and co-owner of the Purim Oak in the 300 block of York Road.

"When you sweat, the blood vessels open up more and your body cools down," he said.

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