Monday, July 25, 2016

Hot enough for you?

This week, the temperature is expected to be in the mid-90s or hotter. On Saturday, I worked on painting the interior of a house in the morning and worked in my own yard in the afternoon. My sweat soaked through my clothes twice and dripped like raindrops as I walked along. Standing in the shade was tolerable, but barely, while direct sun made me feel like a piece of meat in an oven set to "broil."

Heat like this saps your energy. It hurts. It exhausts you.

Finding an air-conditioned space — and an excuse to be inside it — filled my consciousness. At the end of the day, after taking a shower and putting on fresh, dry clothes, I still felt exhausted. The heat would not let me go.

Every day has been hot for a couple of weeks now, and there is no relief promised in the 10-day forecast. I know there were spells like this when I was growing up, when no one I knew had air conditioning at home, when a single electric fan provided the only hint of relief, pushing the hot, humid air around the house. The grown-ups would grab a ladder-back chair and take it out in the yard underneath the big shade tree to escape the heat inside the house. My Vacation Bible School work was ruined in that upstairs classroom at the church. Perspiration from my face dripped on the drawing paper, leaving big, round splotches that multiplied and grew until the entire paper went limp with moisture. When we came in from recess at my elementary school, the boys would ask the teacher for permission to go to the bathroom to retrieve a few of those rough, brown paper towels to wipe our faces.

How did we tolerate it? How did we manage to work and to sleep through such strength-sapping heat and humidity? And what will it mean in future summers if global temperatures continue to rise, if two-week heat waves turn into two-month heat waves?

The "Sunbelt" (also known as The South) was transformed by the invention of air conditioning, but more intense heat could make the region less attractive (because of higher cooling costs) and the debilitating effects of unremitting heat. This current heat wave might be more than just unbearable heat; it may be a glimpse of what is to come.

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