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Forecasters: Mid-Atlantic heat index could top 115

- Associated Press - Friday, July 22, 2011

It only took a few steps outside Friday to break a sweat as excessive heat warnings were in effect for Baltimore, Washington, and all the way to the beaches of Maryland and Delaware.

Forecasters predicted a high of over 100 degrees in the District and much of Maryland, with a heat index that could make it feel like 115 to 120 degrees because of high humidity. The National Weather Service also warned air quality may be poor Friday and Saturday in much of the area. Forecasters said people should limit their time outdoors and drink plenty of water.

David Robinson, 27, of Fort Washington said he has his own way to beat the heat as he took a break from his job as a facility manager for parking garages and sat on a bench in a downtown D.C. park.

"You think cool," he said. "If you constantly say, `It's hot. It's hot. It's hot,' you're going to be hot."

Dayana Byrnes, 21, who was promoting a website by offering free drinks in a D.C. park, was sweating through her T-shirt. She said she'd probably be at the pool later in the day or over the weekend.

"I didn't think legs could sweat," said Ms. Byrnes, of Waldorf, as she and a co-worker eyed a sprinkler nearby.

At Washington Hospital Center, more patients reported problems with asthma and other respiratory ailments because of the high humidity this week, but traffic at the emergency room Friday was normal, said spokeswoman So Young Pak. Howard University Hospital had a small increase in heat exhaustion cases at the emergency room and was expecting more, said administrator Michael Jones.

"I think the more days we have over 100 degrees … I would expect an increase in heat-related concerns," he said.

In Baltimore, at least 14 emergency room visits Thursday were attributed to the heat, said Brian Schleter, a spokesman for the city's health department. Heat is the top weather-related killer in the nation, he said.

"Be careful, don't go out and do yard work," Schleter said. "Postpone it, put off those duties."

In downtown Baltimore, nurse Olivia Cross, 45, said it was hard to stay cool as she traveled on the city's subway and bus systems to visit client homes. She said trains were running late underground, and temperatures were rising.

"You think it would be cool, but it's not cool, it's hot down there waiting on the train, and then we're stuck down there for 20 minutes," she said. "It's just terrible."

Dale Brown, 53, who is homeless and a recovering alcoholic, said he buys a $3.50 day pass to ride Baltimore's light rail to stay cool and sober. It takes more than two hours to ride it from the end of the line at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International Airport to the last stop north of Baltimore.

"I'm surprised more homeless people don't do that," he said. "That kills a lot of the day. … One more day successful without drinking."

Foot traffic was down at Baltimore's Inner Harbor from the week before when there were cooler temperatures, said one worker who handed out free samples of hummus and pita chips.

Lisa Donovan of Orlando, Fla., who was waiting outside the National Aquarium while visiting Baltimore on business, said she is used to the Florida heat, "but it's not like this." All the city concrete seems to trap the heat, she said.

Maryland state health department spokeswoman Karen Black said the department didn't have any reports of deaths attributed to the heat this week. There had been six heat-related deaths this year. No heat related deaths have been reported this year in the district, said D.C. Department of Health spokeswoman Mahlori Isaacs.

The heat warning prompted the University of the District of Columbia to close its Van Ness campus. A Living Earth Festival at the National Museum of the American Indian continued as planned with an outdoor farmers market on the National Mall to accompany an exhibit on climate change.

Park rangers were staying hydrated and saw a steady stream of visitors on the National Mall, despite the heat, said National Park Service spokesman Terry Adams.

"We have air conditioning at the top of the Washington Monument," he said, "and that's a good thing."

• Associated Press writers Alex Dominguez in Baltimore and Jessica Gresko in Washington contributed to this report

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