The forecast for Seattle this weekend, and particularly on Sunday, has a chance to hit the mid-80s. While I always rejoice in our sunny days here, the past two summers have brought unseasonably warm weather in June—to the point that we’re seeing high temps 15 to 20 degrees above historical averages.
Some weather volatility will always be normal, and a few of these steamy days sprinkled in among our typical June temps in the high 60s might be a welcome splash of heat. But the recent trend has been bucking and lurching well beyond our summertime range, and that burns away most of my enthusiasm for a Sunday scorcher.
I don’t say that to be a grim downer on what is likely to be a festive weekend of BBQs and outdoors fun. I know my wife and I will be spending time out on the porch and drinking up these long evenings and sunsets. Yet I can’t help but feel a little uneasy when I hear people, and especially newscasters, celebrate and embrace these early heat waves as if they come with no consequences.
Sunshine draws everyone outside, but highs in the 80s and low 90s can make the indoors unbearable. To be fair, I grew up in South Carolina and later lived in Georgia and Washington, D.C., where the mid-80s in June would qualify as a blissful cold front. But those regions survive the swelter through around-the-clock air conditioning, which is something we’ve largely been able to avoid in the Pacific Northwest. For bars and restaurants in Seattle that don't have AC, heat can quite literally stifle business, and the health impact on those experiencing homelessness is even greater. I'm not sure that's something we should cheer so eagerly.
At home, too, I know it’s a matter of pride, our tradition of natural cooling, but the time-tested Seattle system of flushing the house each morning with fresh air won’t work as well when the lows stop getting close to 60 degrees. An increasing number of Seattleites may feel compelled to install central air or window units, and a booming AC market would then send our energy needs and expenditures into overdrive. And that’s not an ideal adaptation to address climate change, even if it’s totally necessary to our sleep and sanity (we even had to book a night in a hotel last summer after several weeks of miserable, sweat-soaked rest).
Anyway, I truly don’t mean to be a doomsayer, and I definitely don’t want anyone to brood indoors this weekend while the sun is shining. My only hope is that we can bring a little more balance to our conversations about unseasonably warm stretches, and make sure we don’t normalize mid-80s this early in June. No question, a hot day for a beer festival can feel like an awesome stroke of luck, but if the weather stays that steamy the rest of the summer, we’ll need to brace for how the rest of our community and natural world—from wildlife to water resources and forest fires—will cope with that change. Appreciating our shared stake in this challenge, after all, is what gives us the best chance to preserve our special environment and way of life.
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