Life

Hot Enough?

I tell myself don't sweat it. Grandma's rickety fan has other ideas.

By Steve Burgess 3 Aug 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess grew up in Manitoba. Don't get him started on extreme weather.

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Weather happens. Image by Quinn Kelly.

Grandma always hated me. I'm pretty sure that's why I ended up with her old fan. There's a broken blade that I ingeniously fixed with duct tape. But sometimes -- most recently at 4:30 AM on what would eventually be the hottest day in recorded Vancouver history -- the tape comes loose and starts flapping wildly while the resulting weight imbalance causes the fan to rattle like a badly-loaded washing machine. I have to unscrew the grill and re-tape the blade while trying not to drip sweat on anything important.

Luckily, the problem doesn't come up often. It's Vancouver. In this town, summer is like the NHL playoffs -- fans usually end up sitting quietly in the corner.

Vancouver doesn't really know hot. I'm sure I was not the only person rather stunned to hear about last week's all-time high Vancouver temperature. Can it really be that we have never been warmer than 34 degrees since records began? Rome is scheduled to hover around 33 or 34 most of this week -- over there that's what they call August. In Cairo they'd call this sweater weather. (Another odd twist: local TV stations all agreed last Wednesday was the hottest day ever but couldn't agree on how hot it got, with the stated "record" variously reported to be 32.9 or 33.8 degrees. Abbotsford at least got up to respectable 38.)

Relative humidity

A Vancouver heat wave is reminiscent of a Vancouver snow storm -- its impact is magnified by its rarity. We live in a very temperate town. Most of our smug climatic pleasure comes in contemplating our mild winters, but weeks like the last one remind us that those mitigating ocean currents have summertime benefits as well.

And it has been hot. No point doing the old "Bah! This is nothing!" routine so beloved by Prairie folk in winter. A friend recently described humid Southern Ontario summers as "like wearing a wet diaper on your head." But my brother and his wife arrived from Mississauga just in time for the big record, and they didn't try any macho posturing. They were overheating like a couple of Ford Fiestas. Jock and Martha also wanted to pass along a helpful suggestion to city planners: although the pristine character of the Stanley Park seawall is a wonderful thing, the lack of greedy vendors peddling overpriced hydration can be a problem when you've just walked seven kilometres in the hot sun. How about a few water fountains along the route? That Roman summer heat is mitigated by public drinking fountains all over the city. It's a great civic feature. Let's give this job to BC Ferries CEO David Hahn. Outside his jurisdiction perhaps, but for what we're paying the guy he should be serving us crantinis while wearing a sexy little toga.

Tattoo weather

In the 21st century, hot spells come fraught with extra significance. Any stretch of weather like this is now guaranteed to bring up lots of table talk about global warming. Resist the temptation. Remember that if you admit this as evidence, Lorne Gunter and his ilk will be legally justified in crowing about scientific fraud during the next November cold snap. Weather happens. Our hottest July was 1958, back when such weather anomalies were caused by Communist Russia.

All in all, Vancouver heat waves are pretty sweet examples of the form. Although we lack the ubiquitous air-con of a Las Vegas or a Phoenix, we have plenty of beachfront and sea breezes that most sweltering towns could only dream about. Our hot spells offer a sense of event and the pleasure of novelty, rarely staying around long enough to become truly oppressive. Little-used wardrobe items get some street time, and expensive tattoos finally earn their keep.

Still, my apartment is pretty uncomfortable. I could probably buy a new fan. But Grandma was a cheap Scot. And I inherited that too.  [Tyee]

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