- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Local officials are opening cooling shelters, providing outdoor showers and extending hours at public pools to keep residents cool today and tomorrow, when temperatures are expected to soar above 95 degrees.

Temperatures are forecast to reach 96 degrees today and 98 degrees tomorrow. Combined with high humidity, it could feel as hot as 105 degrees both days.

A heat advisory is in effect for the entire D.C. area through tomorrow, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has raised the air-quality index for today to Code Orange, which means the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

“We’ve got a very warm and humid air mass, as well as a combination of heat and humidity, which makes it feel warmer than it really is,” said Andy Woodcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The Weather Service warned yesterday that the heat advisory could be upgraded to an excessive heat warning today, when high temperatures and elevated humidity could make it feel even hotter.

Scorching temperatures put children, the elderly and persons who suffer from heart and lung conditions at an especially high risk for heat-related illnesses, officials said.

Since 2003, more than a dozen people have died of heat-related illnesses in the D.C. area, officials said.

The District and several counties in Maryland and Virginia are setting up cooling centers to help residents escape the searing heat.

The District has implemented its heat-emergency plan, which means street showers are being activated at D.C. Housing Authority facilities and other locations, and fans are being distributed to the elderly and those with respiratory problems.

D.C. officials also have set up cooling centers in several government buildings, at several public and assisted-living housing centers and at emergency homeless shelters.

“As people pass by, they can come in [and] sit down, get a glass of water and cool off,” said Jo’Ellen Countee, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Emergency Management Agency.

Under the city’s heat-emergency plan, pools also will stay open until 9 p.m.

Montgomery County has a program that offers fans to the elderly and people with low incomes.

“We make them available every year. People can call anytime,” said Mary Anderson, a public-information officer for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Heavy thunderstorms are not expected to occur during the heat advisory because the atmosphere is too warm to generate them, the Weather Service’s Mr. Woodcock said.

The D.C. area is one of many places in the country under a heat advisory. Excessive heat warnings and advisories were in effect through yesterday for states from Illinois to Louisiana and from Nebraska to the District, the Weather Service said.

Meanwhile, local utility companies are concerned that constant use of air conditioning will strain the system and cause unnecessary personal cost.

“Our main concern is that the heat plus the heavy load from all the air conditioning can put a bit of strain on the system, but a huge strain on people’s pocketbooks,” said Mary-Beth Hutch-inson, a spokeswoman for Potomac Electric Power Co.

Customers would be “aghast” to see in the difference in their bills between a day when the air conditioning is being used all day and a normal day when the system cycles on and off, she said.

Customers are advised to keep their air conditioners set at 78 degrees if they can tolerate it, Miss Hutchinson said. A higher temperature is very manageable for the system and should not cause much discomfort if fans also are kept running to circulate the air.

Customers also can maintain cooler homes by keeping curtains drawn during the day, making sure doors and windows are closed and running heat-causing appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers at night.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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