So as everyone knows, the Pacific Northwest is having a heat wave right now. While it’s not completely unheard of for temperatures to get into the 90s and even break triple digits west of the Cascades, it’s definitely unusual. Unusual enough that on the radio yesterday they were talking about how to keep your car from overheating. It’s just not a thing people here normally have to worry about. Or how to keep themselves from overheating, for that matter.
The big thing to be aware of, if you don’t live in this part of the country, is that residential air conditioning still isn’t the norm. Off the top of my head I can think of maybe two households I know that have it, and one of those is in a newer development. So right now a lot of people are doing what they can to keep cool–running fans if they have them, wrapping wet towels around their necks–or going somewhere that does have AC. Which now has the added complication that we’re still in a pandemic, though the governor is planning to lift all restrictions next week and the state has edged pretty close to a 70% vaccination rate. (Mind, that percentage for herd immunity to COVID-19 is still a best estimate, and among some demographics the rate is far lower.)
I got in a workout this morning before the heat turned brutal, then went for an iced tea with a friend in a nice air conditioned coffee shop. I’m not exactly a hot-weather person, at least not anymore–growing up in Maryland where the summer temperature hit the triple digits semi-regularly by the time I was in high school, I used to, if not enjoy it, at least be able to function within it. But I’ve been outdoors a lot this last year, including a couple of eastside camping trips in pretty hot weather, so I seem to be acclimating.
On the other hand, we have one of those portable AC units intended to chill a single room going in our house, which is keeping things bearable. That was my husband’s idea–he’s a Portlander through and through, and his idea of a hot day starts well short of 80 degrees. The longer I live here, the more I feel the same. That’s another thing to be aware of, if you live somewhere where it regularly gets this hot or even hotter–the human body gets used to the range that it spends most of its time in. Many years ago we spent the winter solstice in Fairbanks, where the daily average was around 40 below zero. When we got back to Seattle, what’s considered a chilly winter day around here felt downright warm.
So while when I first moved here 25 years ago I rolled my eyes at people complaining when the temperature got into the 80s, I really can’t fault anyone for complaining right now. The next few days are going to be rough, especially for people whose homes don’t have AC or have poor ventilation–or who don’t have homes at all.
What I really wonder about–and of course we won’t know unless it happens–is whether this will become normal.