Chicago and Midwest Weather: Condition Orange


My brief stay in Chicago has included a couple of Summer of 2012 heat spikes, interspersed with less radical summer weather, as a frontal boundary oscillates across this part of the Midwest. Today’s National Weather Service forecast map for the Chicago region is orange in every direction, indicating a heat advisory. Temperatures in the city are expected to hit 100. Outside the city, up to 105. (I note that the forecast high in San Francisco today is … 63.)

Tom Skilling, the dean of Chicagoland TV weather forecasters, and a meteorologist who is unfailingly informative first and entertaining second, sums up today’s torrid conditions on the WGN/Tribune Chicago Weather Center blog:

“The blisteringly hot air mass responsible for 100-degree or hotter temperatures across sections of 19 states Tuesday re-expands into the Chicago area Wednesday. It’s on track to bring Chicago its fifth triple-digit high temperature of 2012—the most official 100+degree readings here of any year since 1988.

“Temperatures surge past 90-degrees for a 34th time this year at O’Hare and 35th time at Midway—extraordinary when you consider the average since weather records began in 1871 has been only 17 such days at O’Hare and 23 at Midway!

“…This summer’s warmth has been nothing if not persistent. If you needed any additional evidence this weather pattern has been unusual, WGN weather producer Bill Snyder, in surveying the city’s official temperature records, finds Chicago is to log an unprecedented 29th consecutive day of above normal temperatures—making this the most back-to-back days to post a surplus in the 5.5 years since a Dec. 10, 2006 through Jan. 14, 2007 mild spell in which above normal temperatures were recorded over 36 consecutive days.”



You’ve got to click on the above to appreciate it (don’t worry–I’m not surreptitiously signing you up for a $10,000 Ukrainian stock brokers conference).

That’s what the next few days look like in Red Bluff, near the head of the Sacramento Valley, 170 road miles from climatically bland Berkeley. I’m not sure of the reasons, but the northern end of the valley is one of the hottest places in the state. During one heat spell in the ’90s, Redding (30 miles north of Red Bluff) hit 117.

The week ahead in Red Bluff: temperatures above 110 for the next three days. And lots of smoke from the fires that won’t go out (and hey, how would you like to be on one of the fire crews trying to put the fires out in that weather?). I’m reading Dante’s Inferno right now. He didn’t know the half of it.

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Heat, a Re-examination


The last day of July, the first of August, it’s supposed to be hot. Today, it’s an unremarkable 90 or so here in Brooklyn. I’m sitting in my brother and sister-in-law’s unairconditioned kitchen about a mile south and east of the Brooklyn Bridge. Not suffering. But tomorrow we’ll be getting what folks to the west have been dealing with for the last couple of days (112 in Bismarck?!). The National Weather Service is warning it will get up to about 100 Tuesday and Wednesday, that it will be plenty humid, and that we’ll have high ozone levels as the air in the region stagnates. (Add rum and guns, then stir for a swell party!)

The last few days, Kate and I have been staying in a friend’s house  near the northern New Jersey shore. It’s got central air conditioning, and the system has been running ever since we arrived there last Thursday. It struck me this morning as I walked outside for the first time and shut the sliding glass door behind me that around here, the ability to cool the air in homes and cars and public places of all kinds is just as vital as the ability to heat it in the winter. In the suburbs, anyway, you don’t see homes open to the elements on a hot day any more than you’d see a place with its windows flung open when it’s zero outside. Yet, the weather’s the weather. It may be incrementally hotter on average than it was a generation or two or three ago, but everyone here endured long, stifling stretches of heat then without refrigerating every living space, just as most of the world’s people do today. (We went to France in August 2003 at the tail end of the country’s extended heat wave; I knew air conditioning was uncommon there, but I hoped against hope that somehow our little hotel would be an exception; instead, when we got to our room, we found that the windows hadn’t been opened for days and the place was like an oven — and what was worse was that for several days afterward, there wasn’t enough of a breeze to cool anything off.)

I’m not arguing for some kind of sweaty, hair-shirt virtue in living without air conditioning. Just makes me wonder sometimes what would happen if we all suddenly had to do without (which ties into my fear for the next couple of days; I’m concerned that the power demand here will cause a blackout and shut down the air-traffic-control system and keep us from flying back Wednesday to our effete little climate back in Berkeley). I do remember that before we had our first air conditioners, in 1966, the remedy for hot nights was staying up late watching movies with our mom and taking cool showers before we headed off to bed. Somehow, we slept.

(Picture: Hamilton Avenue and West 9th Street, Brooklyn. It wasn’t really 99 degrees.)