This is the week when I usually write about what I’ve been doing—other than writing, that is. However, what I’ve been doing has been not much.
June is historically the hottest month of the year in Tucson. With temperatures regularly topping 100 degrees, reaching 110 a few times or even 115 some years, just the idea of going outside makes me wilt.
It’s also one of the driest months of the year. Part of my morning (and evening) routine is putting saline gel in my nostrils so I can breathe. I sleep with a bedside humidifier.
Add to that the wind—a precursor to our monsoon season when we’ll finally (hopefully) get rain—and the air is filled with dust and pollen, wreaking havoc not only with breathing but seeing. Eyes feel dry and gritty (artificial tears for that) and the relentless sun, something we brag about during the “winter,” can turn you lobster red in a short time (make sure to wear sunblock and a hat).
Dehydration is a real threat. Since the air is so dry, you don’t feel perspiration on your skin, but you are sweating. You have to make a habit of drinking lots of water, even if you don’t feel thirsty. By the time you’re thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated. When I first arrived in Tucson and was looking for an apartment, I was struck by how the minute you entered the leasing office you were offered a bottle of water. You learn to carry your own water bottle during the summer months.
I remember going to a hairdresser appointment a couple of years ago. It was close to my home and I was only going to go there and back, so decided it wasn’t necessary to carry a water bottle. Except, when I tried to start my car to head home, the battery was dead. (Another casualty of the heat.) In the northeast, in the cold, a failing battery usually gives signs it’s on the way out. The car is hard to start for a few days before that below-freezing morning kills it off altogether. Not so in Arizona heat. The heat kills batteries suddenly. I had to wait a long time for AAA to come to jump start the car (which wouldn’t stay started) and then for a tow truck. I got thirsty and cursed myself for not bringing my water bottle. Fortunately, the tow truck driver carried a case of water and offered me a bottle the minute I got into his cab.
Right now, we’re counting down the days until monsoon season, when the weather pattern changes and moisture comes up from the Gulf of California. Currently, monsoon season starts on June 15th and ends on September 30th. Before 2008, there were no neat dates set by the National Weather Service. We knew monsoon season had started when there were three consecutive days with an average dew point of over fifty-four degrees. You could never say, “Monsoon season started today.” The best you could do was say, “Monsoon season started three days ago.” I rather preferred the quirkiness of that to the hard dates.
We need the rain. We’re closing in on the record of 114 days without measurable rainfall in Tucson. And we measure rain in the hundredths of an inch around here. My recollection is the first storm actually strikes around the Fourth of July, so we have a way to go yet.
Of course, the storms bring their own problems. They’re brief and violent with lots of thunder and lightning and high winds, even microbursts that make you think you’re in a tornado. Power goes out, trees are downed, and there’s lots of flash flooding. These storms are mostly quick and localized, so if you happen to be caught out in one, the best thing to do is find a place to hang out for fifteen or thirty minutes until it passes.
Of course, not all people do that. Some persist in trying to go through flooded streets or attempting to cross a wash that runs over a road during storms. A “wash” is a channel where the water makes its way down from higher elevations to lower. Some of our washes are called rivers, but they’re dry most of the year. Despite the warnings, despite the stupid motorist law which enables authorities to charge you for the cost of the rescue from a flooded street or wash, every year we have several swift-water rescues in Tucson after a monsoon storm.
As you can imagine, there aren’t a whole lot of outdoor activities in Tucson over the summer. The few there are occur mostly at night, when it might be in the eighties a few hours after sunset. It cools down to the mid-seventies just before dawn. It’s 6:40 AM right now and the temperature is already 78 degrees. The forecast high is 106.
I try to get any errands done before noon at this time of year. I’ve already switched the time I go to Curves from 3:00 PM to 11:00 AM because of the heat.
Despite the summer, I still love living in Tucson. I’d much rather put up with the heat than scrape ice off my windows and shovel out the car and huddle under blankets in the winters of the Northeast. As long as the air conditioning doesn’t go out.