Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Summer Heatwaves

Here we are in the swelter of a Minneapolis summer, temperatures reaching the 90s, dewpoints in the 70s, humidity suffocating, hot breezes offering no more than the hope of relief as they ripple across our bodies while we pretend they’re cooling us off. Lethargic and dull, we seek out shade.

This was what we yearned for in January and February as we shoveled snow and urged our cars to start just one more day, as we scraped windows clear of frost and rime, as we cursed the darkness of sunsets in the afternoon.

Back then, we promised we wouldn’t complain about summer’s furnace if only we could be warm for a little while. We sat before our largest window in the early afternoon, taking advantage of the weak sunlight streaming in at an acute angle, and pretended we were on a beach, closing our eyes, imagining the feel of the sand beneath our feet, the sound of water lapping against the shore, the call of a seabird in the distance.

Now – and mind you, we’re not officially complaining – we dream of winter, or at least November, when we can always put on another layer to stay warm. In this summer sauna, we are limited. You can’t take off any more clothes than all of them. And of course we don’t take all of them off anyway.

We wear shorts and wifebeaters maybe, flip-flops on our feet. We dance from air-conditioned office to air-conditioned home to air-conditioned restaurant or movie theater, telling ourselves it could be worse; we could live in Phoenix or Baghdad. Just as in winter we congratulate ourselves for at least not living in Fairbanks or Moscow.

We have become indoor people, like pets, going outside when we have to, but no longer comfortable out there for any length of time. A few of us note that we’ve spent thousands of years making our indoors better and more luxurious. Why go outside when our indoor spaces are so enjoyable?

And we’re likely to become even more attached to our indoor places with every succeeding generation, partly because we’ve grown more accustomed to our devices, our smartphones and our tablets, offering new games, new diversions, new applications.

But the bigger reason we’re likely to become more indoorsy is because our climate is changing. For the past 12,000 years or so, it’s been remarkably stable, with swings that haven’t gone too far in any direction. However, global warming is already making itself felt.

As the arctic warms, the jet stream weakens, and weather patterns become more persistent. Dry areas become drier. Wet areas become wetter. Some places will experience day after day of flooding rain. Others will be stuck in week after week of drought.

Even cold air patterns will linger for longer periods, though they will be far less numerous than hot weather patterns. The relatively mild days we’ve grown accustomed to are rapidly vanishing, at least by geological time.

In 20 or 30 years, we’ll look back at these good old days as we struggle with harsher climatic conditions. Stuck in the middle of 20-day heatwaves of 90-plus degree weather, we’ll reminisce about these mini heatwaves and wish we could return to them.

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