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Heat has had impact on area

September 02, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

The summer of 2002 has been a long, hot one and, according to the calendar and the weatherman, it isn't over yet. But it hasn't been a record-breaking summer - although it may have felt that way to some people - and, even if it had, that doesn't bother everybody.

"I enjoy the heat. I'd rather be hot than cold," said Elmer Dodson, 57, of Hagerstown.

There is a cost, though. Dodson said his electric bill has gone up because his wife "works in the air conditioning so she likes the air conditioning on at home."

She's not alone.

Allegheny Energy and the Hagerstown Light Department both set peak megawatt records this summer and, until the recent rain and cooler temperatures, this summer was on pace to tie Hagerstown's hottest summer on record.

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On July 22, Allegheny set a record peak of 8,301 megawatts compared with the previous high of 8,265 megawatts on Aug. 9, 2001, spokesman Michael Grandillo said. Allegheny provides electricity to portions of Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio.

Hagerstown's electricity demand in July reached 78.5 megawatts compared with the previous high of 73.6 megawatts in August 2001, Hagerstown Light Manager Terry Weaver said.

That translated into summer bills rising dramatically, in some cases doubling, City Billing Supervisor Mitch Evans said.

With the prolonged heat and humidity driving up the heat index on so many days, air conditioners had to work harder to provide relief, Weaver said.

And there was plenty of demand for relief.

Spicher Appliances on Pennsylvania Avenue had one of its best summers in air conditioner sales, selling out within the last week, owner Curt Spicher said. The store even sold window units to people with central air conditioning who wanted an extra boost, he said.

Unfortunately for the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex, the prolonged heat didn't drive more people to ice skate, General Manager Carl Langford said.

"If it's hot out there, we've got the biggest air conditioner in the area," he said.

Almost a record

Until last week, Hagerstown was on pace to tie 1995 for the hottest summer on record, local weather observer Greg Keefer said. Keefer's records date to 1898.

The average daily temperature in 1995 was 76 degrees. As of Thursday, the average daily temperature this summer was 75.6 degrees, Keefer said.

Keefer compared the average daily temperature in June, July and August since most people consider summer to unofficially start on Memorial Day weekend and end Labor Day weekend.

The heat index, a measurement of how hot it feels with the temperature and humidity level, reached 90 degrees or higher 50 times since June 1, according to Keefer's Web site at www.i4weather.net. The heat index reached 100 degrees or higher 20 times, peaking at 109 degrees July 28.

Much of the heat and humidity occurred in July and the first week of August, with another stretch in mid-August.

This summer seemed so hot because the past two summers were so cool, said National Weather Service meteorologist Jim DeCarufel.

"It's summer. Get used to it," DeCarufel said.

And there's still three weeks to go until summer officially ends Sept. 23.

The Bermuda High Pressure system off the East Coast was particularly strong this summer, leading to the prolonged heat, DeCarufel said. The system, which usually settles off the Carolinas and Gulf Coast, was over the Mid-Atlantic region more this summer.

That pressure system prevented cold fronts with cooler temperatures and more precipitation from moving south from Canada, DeCarufel said.

It also allowed humid air to be drawn up from the Gulf of Mexico.

"A lot of the air has been mainly hot, coming from the west. It dries out considerably as it crosses the Plains and the Appalachians," DeCarufel said.

Many of the frontal systems that brought rain to the Great Lakes and Pennsylvania petered out before they hit the Tri-State area, he said.

DeCarufel said he wasn't aware of any other long-term weather trends or phenomena that made the summer so hot and humid.

While temperatures cooled last week, they will warm up the beginning of this week, he said.

Health hazards

The oppressive heat claimed at least one life in the Tri-State area this summer - that of a Frederick County firefighter recruit.

Andrew James Waybright, 24, collapsed during training July 3 after doing calisthenics and jogging. When training started that day it was 75 degrees and the heat index was 80 degrees. By the time Waybright returned to the training complex, the temperature was 84 and the heat index was 96, Emergency Services Director Stanley L. Poole Jr. said.

Tri-State area hospitals saw their share of heat exhaustion and heat stroke cases, officials said.

Washington County Hospital had several heat-related injury cases this summer, including two cases of heat stroke, said Dr. Tom Gilbert, chairman of emergency medicine. One of those patients had muscle breakdown and was at risk of renal failure, he said.

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