- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

On a sweltering August day in 1878, Andrew Campbell felt a cool rush of air from a limestone rock crevice in Luray, Va. Immediately drawn to the cool air, he and two other men dug through the rock and discovered Luray Caverns.

Today, people are still drawn to the 54-degree air of the caverns and other cool locations around the Washington area, especially when the thermometer sizzles at nearly 100 degrees.

The National Weather Service is forecasting high temperatures will reach 98 degrees in the District today and stay in the 90s through the end of the week.

In the caverns, it’s expected to be 54 degrees today. Tomorrow? 54 degrees. Jan. 1? 54 degrees.

The caverns’ rocky ceiling insulates it from the sun’s oppressive heat, keeping the interior a consistent temperature all day and all year.

“Most people are just delighted to get down there in their summer attire and enjoy a respite from the 100-degree temperatures we’re experiencing,” said John Shaffer, a Luray Caverns spokesman, adding that the caverns have about 87 percent humidity, making it feel slightly warmer than 54 degrees, the average temperature in April.

During extended periods of heat, there is a slight bump in attendance numbers at the caverns, which draw about 500,000 visitors per year, he said.

Mother Nature’s air conditioning also works above the Earth’s surface.

Skyline Drive, the scenic mountaintop stretch in Shenandoah National Park, is about 10 degrees cooler than in the valleys.

“In the summer, you sometimes even need a jacket in the evenings for the top of the mountains,” said Greta Miller, executive director of the Shenandoah National Park Association. “It’s very pleasant on a hot day.”

Cultural Tourism DC is banking on the heat sticking around next month with its Culture Cool promotion, which includes events such as air-conditioned museum tours, coldblooded predator exhibits at the National Aquarium, a viewing of “March of the Penguins” at the National Archives and the Cool Cabaret by the D.C. Cabaret Network.

And the National Gallery of Art doesn’t mind if people splash in its cool fountain and reflecting pool while taking in a free Friday evening concert.

Cool products are hot, too.

Metro Ice & Beverage, an ice and beer company in the District, is preparing to fill larger ice orders later this week for its retail and hotel clients.

“Toward the weekend, we’ll see more orders, just for the fact people will start to get scared,” said account manager Bernadetta Barber. “Restaurants’ ice machines won’t make enough ice, and they’ll order some for backup — same with hotels. Some people will add dry ice to coolers to keep things cold.”

She expects business to pick up by about two-thirds this week.

And Metro Ice’s employees really don’t mind carting the ice from the cooler on sweltering days, Miss Barber said.

“They’re in the cooler all the time — even when there are no customers — when it’s really hot,” she said, adding that the 30-degree cooler is about 40 degrees colder than the rest of the office.

The cooler at Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream Inc.’s ice cream factory in Laurel is even colder.

The 700 employees at the factory make Edy’s, Haagen-Dazs and Nestle brand treats in a 20-below-zero warehouse.

“They’re coming in from their cars sweating and then going into minus 20,” said regional distribution manager Bruce Berthold. “It’s a pretty good environment right now … we’re not used to these 98-degree days.”

Employees bundle up and spend about an hour to 11/2 hours working in the coolers before taking a break to warm up, he said. New employees start off slowly, while veterans can spend more time in the cooler without a break.

The ice cream is kept 20 degrees below zero until it hits the grocery store freezer, which is often kept at minus 10, Mr. Berthold said.

And if the cool temperature isn’t appealing enough during a scalding week like this, Mr. Berthold said, “you get to eat all the ice cream you want.”

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