- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2001

Just when it looked like the metropolitan Washington area might buck its reputation as a sweltering summertime swamp, a heat wave has settled in and brought temperatures that could get hotter before cooling down.
Today, tomorrow and Thursday are expected to reach the mid- to high 90s, translating into a heat index — which measures how hot it feels when humidity rates are added to high temperatures — of between 100 and 105 degrees.
Forecasters predict today will be the hottest day in two years across the region, but thunderstorms are expected to move in late Thursday or early Friday and could drop temperatures by at least 10 degrees.
Until now, this has been a relatively cool summer, with lower-than-average temperatures.
"August is acting like it's trying to balance things out a bit," said Jim Travers, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "This is pretty dangerous weather."
D.C. Emergency Management Director Peter G. LaPorte said his agency has enacted its emergency heat plan through at least Thursday. Operating hours have been extended for city pools, air-conditioned cooling centers are operating, and fire hydrants in about a dozen locations around the city have been opened to provide "street showers."
"People should stay inside in the air conditioning," said Lori DeMeter, director of the Office of Injury Prevention at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. "And if they don't have air conditioning, they should go to a place that does a mall, a library, anything that's convenient."
Potomac Electric Power Co. yesterday issued a statement asking customers to conserve electricity during the afternoon hours, but said it "expects to have enough electricity to meet the demands for power."
Mrs. DeMeter said the best time for people to engage in outdoor activity is between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m., but people who work outdoors don't always have that luxury.
Buck Riley, 25, spent most of the day yesterday sweating over a jackhammer in Alexandria. His crew arrived on site about 6:30 a.m. to install a gas line and figured to work until 4 p.m. They expect to be back out today in regulation long pants, vests and hard hats.
"You get used to it," Mr. Riley said of the heat. His company provides him with a corporate credit card to buy ice and fluids for the crew and gives him latitude about working in severe weather. Still, he concedes it's unlikely they'll restrict their hours because of this week's heat.
"You've got to work. It's either hot or it's cold. You don't have much choice," he said.
Montgomery County Agricultural Fair volunteer Mike Waters offered one way to deal with yesterday's heat: "Move slow and drink lots of water."
He and fellow volunteer Joe Pearson found another way to handle the heat wave they will be dealing with when they begin cooking for all the events' volunteers. Standing under shade trees where they had erected a large canopy, the volunteer chefs explained they are setting up their kitchen outdoors this year, where hot and thick air will at least move.
But at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, shade can be hard to come by for cargo handlers on the flight line.
"When you're out on the runway, it's like being out in the desert," said U.S. Airways Operations Manager Ed Ruark.
"When you get busy out there, sometimes you forget," said supervisor Terrence Christian. "Sometimes you stop sweating and you think you're OK. You don't realize something's wrong until you get lightheaded."
Symptoms of overheating include a high body temperature, 103 degrees or higher; confusion; and red, hot and dry skin, with no sweating. Overheating and dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not given.
If someone does exhibit symptoms of overheating, help them get into the shade, give them a drink of water, but make sure they drink slowly, and use damp cloths to cool the skin, Mrs. DeMeter said. People at particular risk of overheating include the elderly and children under 5 years old.
Extreme heat causes more deaths in the United States than hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, floods and earthquakes combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 300 people die from heat-related illnesses every year.
The dangers of high temperatures made news last week when Korey Stringer, a tackle for the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, died of heat stroke after an outdoor practice.
While this heat wave may be uncomfortable and even dangerous, it's less powerful than the 1999 heat wave during which temperatures of 102 and a heat index of 115 were recorded, Mr. Travers said.
* Margie Hyslop contributed to this report.

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