Last weekend we had three days that were over 100. Saturday’s high was 108; Sunday’s was 112, and on Monday, we scorched at 116. The highest temperature ever recorded in Portland was 107 and that was three times–once in July 1965 and twice in August 1981.
Well, the unbearable heat caused us to reminisce about the summer of 1980 and the prolonged record-breaking Texas heat wave that we survived.
It was the year that Mt. St. Helens erupted in May.
We were living in Arlington, Texas–then a small town situated between Dallas and Fort Worth. By early June, a high pressure ridge had formed over the Midwest, refusing to be budged, swathing us in layers of heat. At least 1250 deaths were directly attributed to the heat. It is listed in records as one of the great natural disasters suffered by our country.
By the middle of June the mercury in thermometers was racing over 100; it topped that mark for a total of 69 days that summer. Sixty-nine days — that’s almost ten weeks!
The mercury’s high point was on June 26th and 27th when it pushed to 113 two days in a row.
For 42 consecutive days (that’s right, 42 days is SIX WEEKS, beginning on June 23 and continuing until August 3) the mercury got stuck over 100–day and night. Yes, you read that right. The temperature did not go under 100 for 42 consecutive days!
They say we broke 29 heat records that summer. Many of them still stand at the time of this writing.
How did we cope?
Early on, Carl and I realized that our air conditioning units could not keep up… and if they could, our budget sure couldn’t. So, yes, we turned our AC off! Trees shaded our house. Our residential area was on a slight ridge, so if there was a breeze, we would benefit from it. We had a rather large yard, so there were no houses close to our house to block air or reflect the sun’s heat.
Also we were blessed with a backyard pool in which we spent many early morning and late afternoon-evening hours recovering from the parching heat. In time the water in the pool became very warm and lost some of its refreshing quality. I remember reading of people get dry ice to cool their pools, but we didn’t. Amazingly, when the daytime temperatures began to drop into the low 90s that September and a light breeze blew, the kids thought it was too cool to swim any longer.
We purchased floor fans, one for each bedroom and a couple for general living areas. Their hum was ceaseless. I still associate the hum of a fan with the memory of those long hot days.
At night we turned on the giant whole-house exhaust fan that was located in the ceiling of our bedroom hallway. That big daddy of all fans had such a suction that bugs resting on window screens were pulled tight against the screen, unable to escape the force of the suction. Seriously, those big daddy fans can replace the air in a three bedroom house in five minutes.
Well, anyway, after hosing down the shrubs under our bedroom windows and cracking the windows open about two inches, we’d turn that dude on and sleep the night with it sucking the air across our beds so we could benefit from any nighttime temperature drop. We had a number of the turbine attic ventilators on our roof, the kind that rotate with the slightest breeze. Well, when I’d flip on the switch of that big daddy house fan, the louvers would slowly open in the ceiling and the fan blades would begin to turn. My hair would sweep upward with the suction. And the attic ventilators would spin like tops. Once on a breezeless day, our neighbor asked Carl how he got our ventilators to spin so much.
I must tell of an incident about that big daddy fan even though it’s unrelated to the heat wave. On a winter day, my mom was cooking sauerkraut and thought she’d use the big daddy fan to remove the smell in a hurry. She turned that fan on unbeknown to Carl and me in the den enjoying a cozy fire in our fireplace. Suddenly, a puff of smoke flowed out of our fireplace toward us and continued with a grayish trail across our den in the direction of the big daddy fan in the hallway.
That summer, we were attending Sunday afternoon services at Christ For The Nations (Dallas). After service, we’d go to our car parked in a shadeless parking lot, open the doors, and turn on the AC while standing outside the car for a few moments. We had bath towels to place over the scorching seats. I didn’t dare to lay my arm against the door or the window frame; I would have probably gotten a first degree burn. I’m sure I could have cook an egg on the hood of our car.
The heat inside the car made my head feel like it would explode. The air was difficult to breathe. And I thought the saying “cooked your brains” might become more than an idiom. That kind of interior car heat is unimaginable–you have to just experience it to understand how it immobilizes your entire being.
All summer our kids wore their swim suits every day, all day — no summer wardrobe to buy and very little laundry. We certainly did not use the clothes dryer! And oh, yes, I did not use a hair dryer during that heat. Anyway, the kids would jump out of the pool, rinse off the chlorine water with the lawn hose and be dry in a few moments. At night I’d rinse their suits and hang them and their pool towels on a clothesline. They’d be ready for the next day.
Ahhh, the kitchen! No baking for birthdays (back then we had two in July, now we have seven). Ice cream pies–graham cracker crust from the store filled with favorite ice cream–were well received.
I couldn’t fill and freeze the ice trays fast enough, so bags of ice were purchased and kept in the freezer for use. I made sun tea, no heat in the kitchen to make that, and served it over ice in quart jars. The bigger the drinking container, the better–we could pack it with ice. We were perpetually thirsty.
Meals? With all that heat and all that drinking, we weren’t too hungry. We’d eat cold melon, grapes–especially frozen grapes, salads, raw vegetables. Our meat was cold lunch meat or grilled (Carl endured the heat), or cooked in the crock pot that I set up in the garage. I couldn’t even stand the extra heat of a crock pot in my kitchen. We used a lot of paper so the dishwasher didn’t run and I didn’t need hot sudsy water. We cut to a minimum the use of all kitchen appliances.
Then the soil began to pull away from the foundation of our house. It was a serious concern as the space grew and could be measured in inches. On our limited watering days, we watered our foundation. When we back flushed the pool, we emptied it around the foundation. We hoped our trees had deep enough roots to make it; they did. And we didn’t mow grass or trim hedges that summer. Nothing seemed to grow. I’m sure, should the growth rings of our trees be examined, the ring for 1980 will be very thin.
Back in 1980, we survived without using our AC. Our house survived without foundation damage. Our trees and shrubs survived. And two years later we moved to the beautiful northwest where we enjoy usually mild summers.