Walking outside yesterday into a pressure-cooker of a day, 59-year-old Daniel Pasko smiled and stripped off his shirt to reveal his summer uniform: a thick puff of white chest hair and a vast expanse of skin, ready for a tan.
Finally, summer weather had arrived - made all the hotter by comparison after the third-coolest May on record in Baltimore. It seemed as though someone had opened the blast furnace door: The mercury topped out at 90 degrees in the city and 88 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
It cooled off in a hurry in the evening - temperatures plummeting as thunderstorms arrived, toppling trees and bringing a threat of flash floods.
The mix of sauna and storm was caused by the combination of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and a strong high-pressure system, said National Weather Service meteorologist John Darnley.
Lightning and high winds caused power outages for more than 30,000 Baltimore Gas and Electric customers across Central Maryland.
The Baltimore County Fire Department reported that at least four homes in White Hall and Hereford were hit by lightning. Peak wind gusts were clocked at 68 mph in Harford County.
Though the storms were expected to disappear overnight, meteorologists said the heat will be around for a while. Today's high is expected to be about 88.
The afternoon heat prompted an early dismissal of city schools. In Columbia, youngsters headed for swimming pools. Parents in North Baltimore scrambled to fix air conditioners. At the Inner Harbor, teens stripped down to tank tops.
"It's just an excuse for them to show off, you know," said Antoinette Dower, 20, who was picnicking in the shade at Federal Hill Park with her boyfriend. "Especially the females, we saw a lot of them practically in bathing suits, right?"
Sitting beside her, Joseph Purvey, 25, kept quiet with a smile.
"The right answer," he later explained, "is to say you didn't really notice. I mean, even if you saw it, you don't say nothing, man."
The couple sighed as a cool breeze wafted across the bench where they had come prepared with pretzels, cinnamon buns and - for a time - ice. "The heat killed it," Dower said.
At a bench nearby, Gainers Wells said the heat was nearly killing him. The 77-year-old wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead and took a long sip of his strawberry banana juice.
"I had to change my pajamas three times last night from all the sweating," the Towson resident said. "That's the worst thing about heat. When it gets cold, you can always put on more clothes, but when it gets hot, you ain't going to get any cooler ... unless you're willing to walk around nekkid."
At the Harborplace promenade, Pasko - wearing only sneakers and a pair of gray shorts - talked loudly and proudly about his tan as he power-walked near the water.
"What you see is what you get," the retired postal worker said. "The women love it. Some of the men are a little more ignorant, though."
For the less appreciative and for businesses that prefer patrons with shirts, Pasko kept a white tank top rolled up in his hand. "I've been waiting for this weather," he said. "The natural summer tan is the only way to go."
Others, however, spent the day trying to avoid the heat.
In Carroll County, patrons packed the parking lot at Hoffman's Ice Cream in search of a cool reprieve.
In Howard County, grateful lifeguards watched as families pulled up in droves to beat the heat in the pools.
"On slow days, we get shut down," said lifeguard Brennan Love, 18, noting that guards are paid by the hour.
In Annapolis, some sought relief at City Dock, where a breeze off the water made the temperature a little more bearable.
"It's much cooler on the water," said water taxi driver Phil Anderson. "Just walk over to the harbormaster's office, you'll feel the difference ... maybe 10 degrees hotter over there."
Near that office, perspiring over a map of Annapolis, was Tom Snook of Fountain Hills, Ariz. He said he had brought his family to Washington in the morning, but they gave up their tour amid the heat.
"We decided to rent a car and come out here," he said. But even near the water, they couldn't beat the heat. He said his family had abandoned him in search of cold drinks.
Sun staff writers Annie Linskey, Frank D. Roylance, Gina Davis, Mary Gail Hare, Larry Carson and Melissa Harris contributed to this article.