No one wants to go down to Tucson in the summer.
-- Mel Tillis, “Send Me Down to Tucson”
By Tom Walker
Old Mel knew what he was talking about. Summers in Tucson are like hell, without the pitchforks (those are 90 miles north of here, in the land of the Arizona State University Sun Devils; but that, of course, is another story.)
Yesterday the Tucson high was 115, the third straight day of 115 or higher temperatures – the first time that has ever happened here. Tuesday’s high of 116 was one degree short of our all-time record. Could be worse, you say; you could be in Phoenix, where temperatures hit 120 yesterday. Or Death Valley, where it was 125 degrees. A little perspective helps, I guess.
Of course, the weather expert in the White House says climate change is a hoax. Of course, I think he doesn’t know an isobar from a piano bar. From where I am, it’s getting hotter and hotter.
Scientists agree. A team of researchers found that nearly one-third of the people worldwide now endure 20 days a year when the heat reaches deadly levels. By the end of the century, that level will rise to three-fourths of the world’s population if global warming continues as it is, the study predicts.
Of course, I won’t be around to see that. But it’s a grim forecast for future generations. What will it be like in Arizona by then? What will it be like anywhere? “The United States is going to be an oven,” said Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii, lead author of the study.
“Fake News!” tweets the eminent climatologist from his air conditioned White House perch.
Nevertheless, just one heat wave – in Europe in 2003 – killed more than 70,000 people. In late May, temperatures in Turbat, Pakistan, hit 128 degrees); if confirmed, that could be among the five hottest temperatures measured on Earth.
Now I grew up on a desert ranch in a home with no air conditioning – in fact, for the better part of my childhood, there was no electricity. In hot weather, we moved our beds either outside under the stars or later, onto a screened porch on the side of our adobe house. Both sleeping places gave the possibility of a cooling evening breeze, if there was one. If there was no breeze, we relied on the natural method of sweat and evaporation for cooling.
It was hot, there on the JV Bar Ranch. But I don’t think we ever saw anything like three straight days of 115 degree temperatures.
The high today (Thursday), was 109. Tomorrow the forecast is 107. Or it could be 109 again. It’s the time of year when weather forecasters are ambivalent.
On the JV Bar, we prayed for rain to give us a break from the heat. And in Tucson, we pray to St. John the Baptist for the beginning of the monsoon. El Dia de San Juan, the festival for the birth of St. John, has been celebrated here for 20 years to mark the return of the monsoon.
Tucson benefits from the northern march of the Mexican Monsoon. The often daily thunderstorms bring rain and cooler temperatures. Of course, it also brings much higher humidity, which renders evaporative coolers useless. Luckily, we have a heat pump air conditioner at our house. It's running all the time now, which is lucky for our utility company.
The San Juan festival, scheduled for Saturday, June 24, includes a procession in which a statue of St. John is carried to an irrigation ditch near the Santa Cruz River. A priest blesses the water in the ditch and children throw flowers into the water. There also are mariachis, dancing, games, food and refreshments.
People in Tucson know how to live large.