Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) activated the district’s “thermal emergency plan” on Thursday, which extends the hours of operation of 11 public swimming pools and opens cooling centers throughout the city for residents to request help. Prince William County also opened its libraries and recreation center in Manassas as cooling resources.
“For those who don’t have working air conditioning or access to air conditioning, they have to go to a cold place and to an air-conditioned place, [because] once it gets that hot, that’s no longer an inconvenience. It’s a danger,” said Matthew Levy, associate professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We are very concerned about sustained and prolonged exposure to heat, especially in our part of the country, where people are not used to this type of heat.”
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Heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, according to weather experts. If you must be outside, Levy advised to stay well hydrated and limit time in direct heat. He also suggests wearing sunglasses and a hat to protect your eyes and sunscreen to protect your skin.
Levy said to be careful of the very old, the very young, those with diabetes and other chronic illnesses, those with a history of heat-related illnesses, and those with limited access to spaces where they can cool off. Pets can also be at risk in the heat, he said.
“We want to make sure, as we do throughout our weather-related emergencies, that it’s neighbors watching out for neighbors,” said Christopher Rodriguez, director of the Homeland Security Agency and DC emergency management.
DC Department of Social Services officials said the city will increase the number of beds at homeless shelters to accommodate anyone looking for a cool place to sleep.
“We are maximizing every available bed in our shelters and working to secure additional beds as we do in all heat-related emergencies,” spokesperson Kevin Valentine Jr. said in an emailed statement Thursday. Outreach workers will conduct wellness checks and provide water to homeless residents on Saturday and Sunday, he said.
DC residents should call the shelter hotline if they or someone they know needs emergency shelter, Valentine said. The number is 202-399-7093.
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The city’s 34 spray parks will also be available as cooling stations, city officials said. And while there have been shortages of lifeguards across the country, DC’s outdoor pools have all opened with normal staffing, said Delano Hunter, director of DC’s Department of Parks and Recreation. The city will offer overtime, he said, to persuade lifeguards typically assigned to work indoor pools — which are closed on Sundays — to help their sweltering outdoor colleagues.
Normally, lifeguards are responsible for dealing with any medical emergencies, including heat-related illnesses.
“It happens quite frequently, to be honest with you,” Hunter said of temperature-related health issues in swimming pools. “Sometimes we get pushed back on the 15-minute breaks, but that’s to promote hydration.”
Metro’s rules against drinking alcohol on board were still in place, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority said Thursday, as rail temperatures had not reached the 135-degree threshold for heat-related policy changes . Arlington Transit and the Fairfax connector both announced on Thursday that they would allow drinking water on their buses during the heat wave.
Fairfax County Public Schools, citing the National Weather Service’s heat advisory, has banned “all FCPS school-based outdoor activities on school grounds,” including physical education classes, college recess and after-school programs, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Thursday.
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In Maryland, Montgomery County Posted a hyperthermia alert from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. Hyperthermia is the medical term for heat-related illnesses.
MARC commuter trains on the Camden and Brunswick lines ran at slower speeds Thursday afternoon under heat-related restrictions imposed by CSX Transportation, which owns the tracks on those lines. MARC trains on the Penn Line, whose tracks are owned by Amtrak, were not affected. Delays were expected to be 10 to 15 minutes, with express trains running at higher speeds being the most affected, according to the Maryland Transit Administration.
Rising temperatures in the region – coinciding with some of the hottest days on record – are likely to be below most records, but will remain up to 10 degrees above normal. On average, Washington hits the 100 degree mark a little less than once a year. It has displayed 121 days equal to or greater than 100 since 1872.
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Rodriguez, the director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, said he and other officials saw this week’s extreme heat as a sign of things to come.
“With climate change this is the new normal, and more extreme and prolonged weather is going to affect us here in the district,” he said. “So we’ve been looking at this for a few years now…how can we build more resilient communities and make sure we can bounce back from extreme weather when that happens?”
Katherine Shaver and Jason Samenow contributed to this report.