Six degrees of perspiration

Published 6:29 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

Just when I start to think, “Well, at least it couldn’t get any hotter,” the little weather widget on my computer shows temperatures above 100 degrees all weekend long. Suffolk’s high on Sunday is predicted to reach 104.

You can be sure that some preacher, somewhere in town, will take the opportunity during worship services on Sunday to exclaim, “If you think it’s hot here …” and then launch into a sermon on the reality of hell. While such an address might be good for the eternal souls of those listening, the only temporal relief it’s likely to provide is the break that congregants get from sitting in an air-conditioned sanctuary for an hour and a half. After that, it’s back out into the cooker.

I’ve written before in this space of my respect for people who spend their summers toiling under the hot sun. Construction workers, garbage crews, watermen and the like — they all deserve a special blessing this time of year for their commitment to their work in the most brutal conditions. And let’s not forget the men and women of America’s armed forces serving in areas with climates that would make the East Coast heat wave seem like a spring day in Minnesota.

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Still, much as with the expected comparisons between temperatures in Hampton Roads and hell, there’s a big step between feeling respect for our soldiers withering under the heat of the Iraqi sun and feeling contentment when the heat index right here at home where I happen to be is edging toward 110.

And if you’re at all sensitive to high temperatures coupled with high humidity — maybe you don’t like breathing air that has the consistency of watery oatmeal, for instance — the last couple of weeks have been a special nightmare.

For several weeks during May and June, I took some perverse delight in telling our newsroom transplants from other parts of the nation that they shouldn’t let the hot, muggy weather bother them. “Just wait ‘til August, when temperatures are 10 degrees hotter and we’ve got actual humidity,” I said.

Now, here we are in July, temperatures are about 15 degrees hotter than they were then and I’ve begun measuring humidity by the number of shirts I sweat through during a half-hour outdoor photo shoot. The National Weather Service has a standing heat advisory that looks to be in effect through sometime after the November elections. And the only farmers who are happy in the area are the ones who grow dried flowers.

The kicker, of course, is this: As I write this column, the rain in downtown Suffolk has begun to pour. I hear thunder in the distance, and the skies are dark with clouds. Television radar shows it is a small thunderstorm that will quickly pass. Still, it’s a refreshing reminder that in Hampton Roads, perhaps more than anywhere else — if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes; it will change.