Archive for Thursday, August 11, 2011

Smith: Thank goodness for AC

August 11, 2011

Certainly we have been suffering through a heat wave this summer, making life difficult for most and dangerous for some. I enjoy hot weather, but there is a limit.

Last Tuesday, Gil Hoag, local ­National Weather Service observer, said the mercury had reached 109 degrees. This led me to doing some research of heat waves in Kansas. According to several sources, Kansas has had four heat waves in the past 75 years: in 1934, 1936, 1954 and 1980.

Many “old-timers” believe that 1934 was the hottest year ever. They’ll point out that the highest temperature ever recorded in Kansas was at Fredonia and Altoona on July 24, 1934, when the mercury soared to 121 degrees. In 1934, according to The Chieftain, there were six days in June with mercury readings above 100 degrees.

I remember the heat wave of 1954, but I don’t remember it changing my life all that much. Of course, we did not have air conditioning, so I guess my feeling was that it was summer in Kansas and it was supposed to be hot. I slept upstairs and I remember having a fan on all night.

We were in Bonner Springs during the heat wave of 1980. While the heat caused lots of problems in the metro area, I was living and working in air-conditioned comfort. That wasn’t the case with many in the area. I read one report that only 40 percent of the population in Kansas City, Mo., had air conditioning. Unlike previous heat waves, people in the city were afraid to sleep in parks because of the fear of crime. Metrowide there were many heat-related deaths.

Certainly, the 1980 heat wave was a serious matter. There were 21 days (nonconsecutive) with readings in excess of 100 degrees. The highest temperature was 111 degrees.

Based on the material I’ve read, I would rate the 1934 heat wave as the worst-ever. There was virtually no air conditioning at that time, except for a few theaters and businesses advertising “air cooled.” The nation was struggling to crawl out of the Great Depression, and there were millions who were homeless. There were great concerns about both the dust bowl and the drought that gripped Kansas. The state was 10 inches below average in annual rainfall. Despite the extreme heat, life seemed to go on at a normal pace in the lower Kaw Valley. I found only one heat-related cancellation. Baseball teams from KCK refused to play on a hot Sunday afternoon.

While the economy was better, the area survived the heat wave of 1936. Marion Vaughn reported the thermometer outside The Chieftain office hit 119 degrees. According to stories in the paper, the swimming pool at Lakewood Park was crowded every day. That summer there were 53 nonconsecutive days with readings over 100.

So, how did people survive in those pre-AC days? According to one source, there was a lot of chipped ice used and cold, wet rags wrapped around necks. In addition, if possible, people had fans. I have had people tell me that in those days they weren’t used to being comfortable and hot weather was expected in July and August. Unlike us, they were more tolerant of temperature extremes and were probably more cautious about exposure. I know that was the case in 1954. Being cool was a special treat, not a right. With that said excessive heat is a real danger and precautions should always be taken.

Anyway, we will get through this hot spell. Extreme temperatures require all of us to be extremely careful. I really hope by the time this is read, the extreme heat will have passed and we will be enjoying an average August. I certainly hope for pleasant weather for Tiblow Days.

Remember, it won’t be long before we will be complaining about the cold weather of January.

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