wait a moment

Heat wave? It’s all relative.

The mercury edged over 80 degrees yesterday, the second or third day of the heat wave. Anchorage residents moaned and sighed and even jumped into local lakes. For my great-nephews that meant Jewel Lake, whose waters are somewhere between 50 and 54 degrees.

By comparison, the water off Cape May, NJ, averages 73 degrees in July. No swimmer’s itch, either, although there might be jellyfish from time to time.

I grew up in a hot, humid place, and remember lying awake wishing that the box fan in the window would magically find cool air and send it my way. My jobs in that region – a commercial greenhouse, a bakery and a glass factory – were not terribly comfortable, either.

In hot-and-humid Oak Park, Ill., our place had two air conditioners: one in the bedroom and one to cool the rest of the apartment. The bedroom cooled off just fine when the door was closed. The other rooms were never really cool, though. They were just a little less hot.

When I lived in Seattle the temperatures went over 100 from time to time (and my south- and west-facing windows grabbed every available ray). I’ve spent time in Phoenix in the summer, and last year encountered both dehydration and, I believe, a touch of heat stroke. (Thank goodness for air conditioning, tile floors and that jug of iced tea.)

I’ve even been in Death Valley in the summer. On purpose. Even so, I have to admit that an Alaska “heat wave” is startlingly uncomfortable.


My rational mind will say, “Um, it’s really not that hot degrees. Put on shorts and you’ll be fine.” But my jerkbrain is sniveling and whining about how sticky I feel because I’m sweating, actually sweating, despite a strategic lack of exertion. Eeeewww, my bra elastic is clammy and my T-shirt is sticking to my back and why is it so hot in here?

Because Alaska homes are built to keep heat from escaping, not to let cold air in. No one I know has central air conditioning, or even a window unit. Some people don’t even have screens, which means that opening the windows means inviting in the mosquitoes – and it’s been a banner year for Alaska’s state bird.


The northern heat wave, explained


This is the point at which our relatives from Outside laugh hysterically and start throwing daytime highs and heat indexes our way. Seriously, 84 degrees? That’s COOL around here!

My daughter said (in a matter-of-fact way rather than a mean one) that it was already 100 degrees at 10 a.m. People in cities like Houston and New Orleans mention the debilitating effects of humidity.

But there’s actually a good reason why 80 degrees up here feels worse than 80 degrees in Miami. According to a report from local television station KTVA, that’s due to the “large input of solar radiation the high latitudes receive during the warm months and the low angle at which this energy is absorbed.”

Today the sun’s peak altitude – 52 degrees above the horizon – took place shortly after 2 p.m. In Miami the peak altitude was 90 degrees, which was almost directly overhead.

Bonus: The days are much longer here, which gives both bodies and buildings more time to absorb the sun and its warmth.

See? We’re not complete whiners. #science



And from a purely unscientific viewpoint? A truly hot day in Anchorage feels unnatural, somehow.

We hope for mild warmth, and some summers we don’t even get that. But starting in May we’ve had some week-long stretches of warm, sunny days that turn our homes into greenhouses and our greenhouses into saunas. All day long DF and I check the tomatoes and cukes to see if they need yet more water. They usually do.

Just as winter cold is relative, summer heat is, too.


The heat wave won’t last


Mind you, I’m loving all this sun. We had a cool and windy spring, which means our outdoor plants are behind schedule. Logically, I know I should also welcome the warmth because it will give those laggards a boost of BTUs. But after going on six years of re-entry into the Last Frontier, I find my heat tolerance has ebbed. Which stinks, given that my daughter lives down there in Satan’s Fry Daddy and the annual Financial Blogger Conference takes place in September – and invariably in a hot place.

(It’s in Orlando this year. Come see me!)

Right now I’m sitting in our library with the shades drawn and a ceiling fan revolving. At my elbow is a glass of iced tea, my third in the past three hours. Tonight I’ll place a pedestal fan at the foot of the bed and lie there in the breeze. Some time during the temperature will drop into the mid-50s and I’ll pull up the sheet and maybe the comforter. I always awaken covered up.

Soon, too soon, heat will be a thing of the past. I’ll be looking at the change in the angle of sunlight and wishing for just a little more warmth to tease ripeness from those last tomatoes. We’ll freeze raspberries and rhubarb, can carrots and beets, dig potatoes and cover up the strawberry beds.

But that will be then. This is now, and I wish it would rain.

Readers: Is there a heat wave in your region, and how do you handle it?


Related reading:

  • Drinking from the hose, eating from the dirt
  • The marvel of an Alaska summer
  • Always getting ready

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