Barry Saunders

Trying to keep cool – and not talk politics – on a 100-degree day

Whenever some dude says he’s only thinking of what’s best for you, grab your wallet with both hands and haul tail in the opposite direction.

Unless that dude is me.

You see, unlike those other supposedly selfless souls seeking to separate you from your shekels, I really am only thinking of others when I say “enough is enough.”

Of this heat, that is. To me, an avowed heatophile and refugee from Midwest winters, summer doesn’t officially begin until the 970th person asks “Hot enough for ya’?”

Unless it’s 95 outside, the answer is “no.” Remember in the movie “Biloxi Blues” when the city boy Army recruit went down to Mississippi and yelped “It’s hot. It’s damn hot. ... Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of hot”?

That’s when I call my tennis buddy Mark and ask if he wants to play a couple of sets. Those of us with a fondness for 90-plus degree temperatures, however, must temper our enthusiasm in deference to those who are suffering and at health risk from it. Those most at risk, said Triangle meteorologist and well-known cold-weather-lover Greg Fishel, are old people without access to proper air conditioning.

Stay hydrated

Fishel, at WRAL, and fellow meteorologist Don “Big Weather” Schwenneker at WTVD, both said that regardless of the weather, you need to stay hydrated. “Once you’re outside and you’re thirsty, it’s already too late,” Schwenneker said.

The danger zone for heat, he continued, “varies from person to person and season to season. As people become acclimated to the heat, it becomes a little bit easier. Once we start seeing the heat index anywhere from 102 to 105-ish, that’s when it becomes dangerous” and weather advisories warn people to stay in.

But what if they have no “in” to stay in?

During the mercifully few times I’ve been homeless or underhoused for whatever reason, I sought cool or warmth in the library of whatever city I was in. Deborah Craig-Ray, assistant county manager for Durham County, said the county is promoting its libraries as “cool places” – are they ever! – in which people can flee the heat. She also said the county is using social media to encourage residents to stay hydrated and to check on their neighbors. It also is urging employees who work outside to start their workdays earlier.

Beverly Thompson, a spokeswoman for the City of Durham, said city garbage collectors start work an hour earlier – at 6 a.m. – from June to October, so workers can catch some of that presumed morning cool breeze.

Wake County waves the white flag when the heat index – the combination of heat and humidity – reaches 100 degrees, said Sarah Williamson, communications manager for the county. The flag isn’t to signal surrender to the elements, she said, but to let homeless people know a particular business provides an escape from the heat. If you see a white flag flying outside either the South Wilmington Street Center or the Women’s Center of Wake County, she said, you can go inside to cool down.

What’s causing it?

Speaking of cooling down, last winter, when old man winter wrapped his icy fingers around the Triangle’s throat and wouldn’t turn loose, I went out into the woods with volunteers from the Durham Rescue Mission to round up and bring in men who were sleeping outside. Despite having icicles hanging from their noses, toeses and clotheses, many didn’t want to come in from the cold.

Does the mission conduct similar search missions when the heat is the culprit? I asked.

“Only if the heat index is 95 or above,” a mission worker named Justin told me Monday.

“Look, bro,” I said to Fishel. “I’m not trying to get you involved in a political debate” – emotions are virulent on both sides – “but what’s causing this current heatwave?”

“If you want to get me involved in the politics, I’d love to,” Fishel said, diving into the debate with the eagerness of a kid diving into an apartment complex pool on a 100-degree day – which it’s forecast to be Thursday. “It would be pretty easy for me, with all of this hot weather right now, to say ‘See. There’s your proof’” that global warming is real.

That, he said, would be not just wrong, but inaccurate. “I’m a converted skeptic,” he said. “I think man is influencing the climate and we need to do something about it, but what I deplore – on both sides of the issue – is when people cherry-pick individual events to try to support their argument.

“The truth is,” Fishel said, “we’ve had Junes that have been worse than this. ... Some of this is just natural. I worry about when people make arguments like ‘See, it’s global warming’” the first time the thermostat reaches 90. “They convolute the science, which is actually on very good ground” – and thus doesn’t need convolutin’.

Just as some climate-change believers will misguidedly use this hot spell to bolster their already-strong argument, the other side uses equally ludicrous and desperate measures to debunk it. Who can forget the surreal moment last winter when an elected-by-actual-voters U.S. Senator, Jim Inhofe, Republican from Oklahoma, actually tossed a snowball onto the floor of the Senate chambers to refute the existence of global warming?

You could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a “Saturday Night Live skit” – except that SNL hasn’t been that funny in decades.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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