Bloomberg News

‘Sweat Ceiling’ Cramps Washington as Heat, Humidity Team Up

July 22, 2011

(Updates with New York measures in 16th paragraph.)

July 22 (Bloomberg) -- As the worst mix of heat and humidity in almost a decade hit the Mid-Atlantic region today, there’s one small consolation: The Washington Monument hasn’t melted -- yet.

Instead, the marble obelisk was almost deserted as workers and tourists abandoned the National Mall for air-conditioned cover in their offices or the capital city’s museums.

Nathan and Jennifer Walters of Memphis, Tennessee, spent six hours walking on the mall yesterday before slipping into the National Archives building, where the nation’s founding documents are displayed.

“Is it bad that we hit where the Constitution is held to cool off?” Nathan Walters said today in an interview outside the historic Willard InterContinental Hotel next to the Treasury Building. “Thank you, tax dollars, for cooling us.”

As of 2 p.m., the temperature had soared to 102 at the Washington Reagan National Airport, and with the humidity it felt like 119, the highest since at least 2002, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures are forecast to reach 103 degrees today, matching an 85-year-old record.

Similar forecasts were issued in communities along the Eastern Seaboard, from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Portland, Maine, according to the government weather forecasters. New York City’s temperatures may touch 106, according to Accuweather.com in State College, Pennsylvania.

“It’s really, really brutal out there,” Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, a Washington suburb, said in an interview.

‘Sweat Ceiling’

Washington’s droll self-regard hadn’t entirely evaporated. With lawmakers and President Barack Obama seeking to reach a deal to avoid default by raising the debt ceiling, readers of the Washington Post settled on the Sweat Ceiling as the best term to describe the conditions. The runner-up? Helter Swelter.

Even at its coolest, Washington had record heat. The overnight temperature was 77, a degree warmer than the previous highest low reading, set 135 years ago and matched in 1993, the National Weather Service reported today.

Regional environment departments issued a Code Red air- quality alert, warning that pollution levels are unsafe for the general population. The weather office issued an excessive heat warning in Washington.

Temperatures are forecast to exceed 100 degrees again tomorrow, before thunderstorms rumble into town sending temperatures to more typical mid-90s by the end of the weekend.

Governments, utilities and businesses adopted serious emergency preparations to deal with heat.

Pepco Peak

Pepco Holdings Co., which has 778,000 customers in the region, put repair crews on 12-hour shifts and summoned staff for evening call-center duty. So far the electric demand hasn’t exceeded the daily record 6,900 megawatts used in July 2006, said Clay Anderson, a company spokesman.

The University of the District of Columbia closed its campus in Northwest Washington for the day, citing the excessive heat. The city activated its “multi-agency heat plan,” which started with preliminary visits to residential care homes for the mentally ill to make sure air-conditioning systems worked, according to a statement.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered state swimming pools, beaches and lakes to stay open later today and tomorrow.

In New York City, more than 500 cooling centers are open today and will be through at least tomorrow, Chris Gilbride, spokesman for the Office of Emergency Management, said in an emailed statement.

“Water-On-the-Go” drinking fountains -- faucets connected to a fire hydrant -- were also deployed at various locations, including near City Hall, Union Square, Times Square and Rockefeller Center.

County Pools

In Maryland’s suburban Montgomery County, the government urged residents to visit pools, libraries or shopping malls to stay cool in free air-conditioning.

In Washington, a few hardy tourists still wandered around the historic sites, water bottles in hand.

“It’s pretty much this hot at home; we’re just not living on a swamp,” Teresa Jackson, 46, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, said as she stood outside of the White House. “We’re hoping the White House visitor’s center shop will have a spray-mister.”

Jackson and daughter Sarah opted to skip a trip to the National Zoo and will instead stay inside at the National Aquarium, around the corner from the center.

Eric Dodge, a 42-year-old construction worker at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus, said he packed his cooler with a gallon of water when he left for work. He’s spending the day in the basement of a dormitory, sweating away as he works to repair the air conditioning before students return to campus next month.

“I try to stay in a cool spot,” Dodge said. “That’s all you can do.”

Dodge might want to keep that cooler ready for repacking: After a respite of a few 90-degree days, Rogers says another spate of 100-degree temperatures may grip the region again a week from today.

--With assistance from Esmé E. Deprez and Charlotte Porter in New York and Eric Martin in Washington. Editors: Steve Geimann, Judy Pasternak

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Drajem in Washington at mdrajem@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net


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