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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shawn Vestal: Summertime … and the living is not what it used to be

I miss summer.

Summer, I mean, as those of us in the mountain West have known it all our lives – a season of mostly temperate warmth, not brutalizing heat; a season of pleasure and fun, not warnings and advisories; a season of blue skies, not brown; a time of ease and light, offsetting the darkness and length of winter, not a time to hide indoors.

The summer we used to brag on as the crown jewel of Spokane’s moderate four-season climate.

I miss nights you could tame with two open windows and a fan. Days you could temper with a glass of ice water. Mornings in your bare feet on the lawn, the grass chilly and the clear sky promising another pleasant day. Afternoons creeping toward 90 – and not quite making it.

I miss summers without a death count. Without political debates over emergency cooling shelters. Without terrifying infernos driving people from their homes and wildfire maps covered with red dots by mid-July. Without power outages on 100-degree days.

I miss the way our peak heat would arrive for a day, or two days, a crisp, bracing scorch, and I miss the glory of a cool lake on those days. I miss the way that such a spike would retreat to normalcy – back into the 80s that have been our July and August norm for decades now.

You know, summer.

Our old pal.

Not this new nemesis, this aggressive Las Vegas of perilous weather. This new season of weather warnings and smoke warnings and wildfire warnings. These days when watering a lawn feels like a criminal act and public health officials roll out daily warnings about the dangers of … going outside.

Our summers have been changing for a long time, it’s true, and these changes have been predicted and foreseen and warned of, warnings that we have collectively failed to take seriously. We’ve inched our way here, with rising temperatures and growing wildfire emergencies year after year that we somehow managed to treat as the normal old occasional emergencies rather than a steadily evolving new reality.

This year’s relentless heat is blaring at us like an alarm. Like the official, formal notice of a disaster you knew was coming but had still, against reason, not expected to come.

We woke up in a pot, baffled that the warming water reached a boil.

And just as we got here gradually, whatever large-scale efforts we finally make – over the objections of bad-faith political actors – will only work gradually as well.

Meaning there is a lot more of this miserable new summer coming in the future.

Sure, there will be temperate days again, as well as days when the weather seems at odds with the direction of the climate. Sometime later this year snow will fall somewhere, convincing far too many people that what’s happening is not really happening.

But if we think this year is an outlier – or these past three or seven or 14 years – we’re kidding ourselves.

Twenty years ago, the conventional wisdom in this region was that you didn’t need air conditioning. A couple days a year got toasty, but otherwise, AC was an unnecessary expense. You sure don’t hear this anymore; more common are the stories of homeowners breaking down and finally getting it.

Of course, in much of Spokane – the most heat-baked quadrants with the least shade – most people can’t afford AC and there is little of it.

Some of those people died this year. From the heat.

These are the hottest summer weeks any of us have lived through here. The National Weather Service announced Wednesday that our overall average temperature of 73.5 – the average of every minute of those days and nights – is the highest ever recorded.

That’s 9.5 degrees above average.

Meanwhile, the hottest temperature ever recorded on earth bore down on Death Valley.

Summer has turned against us. Our old pal is gone.