The worst is yet to come

The heat index is expected to range above 100 degrees today and tomorrow.

Posted: July 09, 2007

Under the sizzling summer sun, muralist Michelle Ortiz toiled yesterday. Hot or not, she had a deadline to meet.

On Wednesday, the project of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program would be dedicated, and Ortiz, 28, had plenty of touch ups left to do on the Creative Book Manufacturing's 59-by-45-foot wall at 1422 Callowhill St. The colorful collage commemorates the 95th anniversary of the Girl Scouts.

The South Philadelphia artist kept her cool.

"About every hour, I have to hose myself off," she said, waving a paint-splattered arm toward a garden hose. Then, she climbed into a mechanical lift with a duct-taped beach umbrella and got to work, quickly. The ball of fire overhead threatened to dry out her cans of paint, sheltered by only a plastic tarp.

Around the area yesterday, folks sought shade, drank lots of water - and headed to air-conditioned places such as the Adventure Aquarium in Camden - as temperatures soared into the 90s with at least three sweltering days ahead, according to forecasts.

Sunday's high - 92 degrees - served only as appetizer to today's and tomorrow's hearty helpings of heat. The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for both days with temperatures expected to reach well into the 90s and feel like boiling water, or worse. The heat index is expected to range from 100 degrees to 105 degrees, according to forecasts.

Nothing to swoon over, but still steamier than the usual early July high of 85 degrees.

"It will be a hot spell," said Jim Poirier, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

Of course, he reminded, "it is the middle of summer, and we certainly do get high temperatures."

This early bout of sticky, sweaty dog days could be stickier and sweatier.

Western states are giving Hades competition. In recent days, Montana, Idaho and Utah have seen triple-digit records set or tied. The mercury reached 104 degrees in both Great Falls and Billings, 105 in the north-central Montana town of Havre, 106 at the Gallatin Field Airport near Bozeman and 107 in Missoula.

Philly sounding a lot more pleasant?

Consider that the July 8 record was 100 degrees, set in 1993. "I don't think we're even going to approach that record high," Poirier said yesterday morning.

Even this work-week broiler will, more than likely, fall short of the records set in 1936. Back then, the high for July 9 topped out at 103 degrees and July 10 hit 104 degrees.

"That 1936 was probably a real barn burner," Poirier said.

Still, this round of heat was uncomfortable enough.

At the Hispanic Fiesta at Penn's Landing, the Avendano family of five from Wilmington found relief in water ice, which melted faster than Adriana, 2, could gobble it. "It's way too hot," complained her mother, Tiffany.

"And we forgot our stroller," added the father, Carlos, as he juggled Madia, 1, and an Ecuadorian flag.

Nearby, two dozen people crowded under the skimpy shade of a tree to watch the costumed performers dance and sing. "I can deal with the heat," said Evelyn Lebron of Kensington, as she sat in a folding chair in the shade and watched her grand-daughter, Aaliyah Mendez, almost 1, play on a quilt spread on the ground.

Across the river, Bob Fay of Pennsauken hawked pretzels and cool drinks outside the Adventure Aquarium. "There's a breeze, thank God," he said.

Meg Gehan of Bernardsville, N.J.,couldn't wait to get inside the fish house. "Something like an aquarium has to be air conditioned," she figured.

Contact staff writer Lini S. Kadaba at 610-701-7624 or

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