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4/5/10

It's Spring in Arizona

Time to prepare for summer...

Phoenix is an arid desert climate in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert and the weather in the summer is extreme and not for everyone. Summer temperatures sear well above 100 degrees from May through September and actually begin to hover in the 100 degree range in March and often last into November. During the core summer months 112-113 degrees is about the normal range with 115 degrees not unusual. Due to the urban heat island effect, the July through September monsoon season often doesn't bring rain into the main metro area, bringing in humidity but not the relief of much rainfall. This also causes dust accumulation, oil-slicked roads, buildings and trees stay unwashed and the air can become thick with particulates.

Many people like me enjoy the summer weather though and are suited for it, although we do get hot and at times tired of it. Those of us who have lived in hot climates all our lives are perhaps better equipped to live, indeed thrive, in it and a lot has to do with adaptation. There are a lot of things I do in the summer, including hiking, walking and bicycling, that others would not (and probably should not) consider. So much of what I know is second nature to me that it is hard to list but I will give a few tips that I find help.

1. Home. Make your place an oasis, no matter how large or small, arrange it as comfortably as possible for you. Casual without being so informal it feels like camping out. Cool neutral colors with a some radiant ones to brighten things up. For me, simplicity is key and easy to care for house plants are also important. Keep your window blinds, shades, curtains almost all the way closed for most of the day, allowing enough to let some light in, so it doesn't feel like a cave and provides necessary natural light for pets, plants and people. If you need some light during the day (and some of us do) open them a quarter to a half early in the early morning with 10 AM as the lastest cut off time.

2. Fans. Ceiling fans are the best and all of them should be turned on when at home with the blades blowing wind downward. Floor and table fans are essential and it is well worth the investment in buying good ones that are quiet, with three speeds. It takes a bit of moving them around at first to strategically place them for best circulation without blowing everything around. Keeping them clean is important and done regularly not too hard. You will be able to lower your electric bill in two ways:
 A. You will be able to raise the temperature on you A/C thermostat (and this will also take some strategy but once set, do NOT change it).
 B. Remember fans cool people and not air. Turn the fans off while you're gone and although (since you haven't adjusted your A/C settings) it will be warm when you return, turn all the fans on as soon as you walk in and things will quickly cool down.

3. If you have sliding glass doors, double doors or a large window or anything that looks out onto even a small garden, patio, or balcony, create a small potted garden just outside that you can look out onto. If possible get plants (succulents of course) large enough to create some sort of shade. Hang a hummingbird feeder and place a large clay pot water dish with large stones and keep filled with water. Hummingbirds feed all year and the dish will attract small birds for bird baths. This brings the outdoors in (without being in it!), make the room appear larger, preventing the feeling of being trapped inside due to the heat. I have a third floor balcony garden I've developed as a small urban wildlife refuge.

4. Clothing. This can be a hard one because some people have wardrobe requirements for work and it's also personal taste. I will say that for my entire life (and I know I am not the only one) I've been amused by people, who even if not required to for work, insist on wearing clothing suited for a much different climate, for them, fashion dictates. On the other hand this doesn't mean the flip side though either, baggy tee shirts, shorts and sandals everywhere and anywhere. In fact I wear jeans and boots most of the year (they were designed for desert climates after all) with tee shirts or ultra-thin shirts of all types. Long pants are probably much smarter, tight or loose, considering they keep the heat from directly hitting your skin, something people who aren't "lifers" don't always grasp. I also wear hiking type shorts, with hiking boots and socks that cover my ankles and a bit of lower leg to minimize sun and heat exposure.

An absolute must: either a hat and/or sun screen, no matter how dorky, unfashionable or "too much trouble." Be smart about the sun, Arizona skin cancer rates ranks at number two, after Australia. If you escape skin cancer, the other result is you will look even older than you are.

5. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and this means WATER, even if you stay indoors all day. The average person loses about three gallons of water a day. This means H2O and not soda pop, sugared drinks, fruit juices, iced tea, beer, wine and alcohol. You may certainly intake those beverages if you want but the average person needs a minimum of 1-2 liters of pure water a day, depending on body size, consumed throughout the day. Personally I rarely drink anything but water but on occasion I have to squeeze lemon, lime or pour a little fruit juice into it for variety. If pure water is not your thing, mix it with fruit juice but the key thing is the majority of it (at least 75%) must be water.

6. Stay indoors or in the shade from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Close the blinds or draw the curtains almost closed or if working outside, on the east side of a building, under a tree, whatever shade is available. That's my general rule, although I'm a little more heat tolerant than even a lot of veterans and do sometimes  go out during those hours, out of necessity but well prepared. Probably the average person should expand that window from 1:00 PM to 6:00 PM. Going out even in an air-conditioned car to an air-conditioned building during those times is somehow psychologically draining.

7. Run your appliances, specifically the dishwasher and clothes dryer after 9 PM at night. If possible set the hot water heater to run at the minimum safe 120 degrees between 9 PM and 6 AM and then lower to 100 degrees the rest of the time, the water will stay at a safe temperature during the hot days This saves energy as well as reducing heat radiation indoors. Contact your electric company, they may have an "energy saver" lower rate program during those hours.

8. Find cool things to do. This can be from getting wet under a hose to swimming in a pool or driving to a lake or river (with water flowing). Go to cool indoor venues such as the Arizona Science Museum, Heard Museum, movie theaters, restaurants, casinos, skating/hockey rinks, libraries,...there are a surprising number of free or low cost indoor places if you look for them. Do early morning or early evening activities, a good example of good free early evening event is the Art Walk. Take a drive north on the Black Canyon Freeway or the Beeline Highway, go up the Apache Trail until you feel cool enough to turn around. If all else fails, in days gone by, when I was tired, younger and with even less money, I would spend a day watching TV with my feet soaking in bags of ice!

There are several points in each summer that it gets to everyone and usually it's some time in late July or in August. Everyone understands this and will let you whine for a few minutes about it but the best remedy is to laugh. Look at the pictures of the snow storm up north from last winter or have a "Hot As Hell" party and talk about how you're going to rub it in to all those people back east and up north during our long beautiful winter. Most of all, maintain balance and don't overdo anything to keep your cool.