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Peterson: Embracing the Summer of Cool

Published: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 12:08 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 12:25 a.m. CDT

There’s a cool breeze blowing through the window, it’s 55 degrees, and it’s the middle of August. It shouldn’t be this way.

But I’m not complaining. Cool is good. Cool is refreshing. Cool is very cool.

I melt in the heat and humidity that often accompany summer. But this summer has been wonderfully unseasonably cool. The temperature reached 90 degrees only one day in July, when usually there are six days of 90-degree-plus weather, according to the Incredible Internet, where I found Bill Bellis, chief meteorologist for FOX 32 News reporting in. And we’re halfway through August, and the temperatures have been hovering in the 70s.

This is like the summer I spent just outside the Wisconsin Northwoods, the only summer I remember having to use a blanket every night while sleeping because the temperatures got so cool. It was magnificent.

After eight years in southeastern Iowa, I learned what summer heat and humidity were all about. All of July and August, and stretching into September, were virtual ovens, with the sweltering temperatures almost daily in the 90s, and regularly pushing past 100.

I baked in my bedroom, which was on the east side of our house in Donnellson. For a number of years, I stayed up late and slept in until noon – I was a teenager – sweating while I slept, the sun beating down on the black tar roof outside my large window, which also captured the solar rays.

It wasn’t until about the last year that I figured out a way to beat the sun. I taped tin foil – the shiny side out – to the top half of the window, deflecting the heat back out. It worked. It was still uncomfortable, but not quite as bad. If only the shades had an aluminum foil backing.

I worked on farms, and grain elevators, and road construction crews those summers, so there was no escaping the heat. And the heat was there every summer for months on end. The heat is one of the reasons I moved to the edge of the Northwoods. I needed to get away from it.

And that summer more than 30 years ago was splendid. Moderate daytime highs and cool nights.

But I moved to northern Illinois, and experienced those sultry days of summer again, although not nearly so bad as southeastern Iowa. Most summers would have multiple days in the 90s in July and August, and every once in a while, the temperature would push into the 100s, but that was a rare occasion.

Regardless of how often the temperature reached the 90s, I would be miserable – and that’s just walking to the car from the office or the house, as both are now air-conditioned. The big picture window of our house faces west, and the people who owned our house for 40 or 50 years never planted a tree or a bush to block the sun to shade the house.

Thinking back to that Iowa bedroom window, I built a solar deflector shield out of a large piece of cardboard, covered with aluminum foil and strengthened by wood lathes. The window is huge, 5 feet across and 4 feet high, and it heated up the living room like nothing without the benefit of shade.

We planted trees, and we finally are getting the shade we need. We haven’t had to deploy the solar deflector shields once this summer, and you can’t imagine how happy that makes me feel. And a number of years ago, I insulated the attic with blown-in insulation 3 or 4 feet deep to prevent the heat from the attic from seeping into the house. And that worked, too.

I did that a week in August when it was in the 90s outside, and I hung a thermometer in the attic to watch the temperature there. The thermometer went only to 150 degrees, and it topped 150 degrees each day I was up there, sweating like a skinny pig. It was the worst job I had ever undertaken, but the results were well worth the effort. It keeps the heat of out of the house in the summer, and keeps the heat in in the winter.

But this summer has been marvelous. There were some days in the uncomfortable upper 80s, and we turned on the air-conditioner to fend off the heat, but for the most part, it has been cool. And I checked with my favorite weather forecasting source on the Incredible Internet, and Weather Underground is forecasting more daily highs in the upper 70s and low 80s for the next two weeks. There are a few days when the temperature pushes into the mid-80s, but that’s livable.

We suffered through the polar vortex last winter, and it’s only fair play that we enjoy a summer polar vortex following that. I like feeling a little chilled in the morning. I rather enjoy not having to complain about the weather. Keep cool, man.

Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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