Cool New England Summer Nights Have Officially Vanished
I remember intense summer heat bouncing off the pavement when I grew up in Hartford in the 1960s, the sort that shimmers off the blacktop and causes the soft tar patches to fill with moisture and form bubbles perfect for popping on an idle July day. I’d poke my big toe in one, watch the warm water ooze out, then race back across the grassy lawn into the sprinkler. As a young girl, I loved the contrasts – the midday summer sun tempered by the beads of cold hose water streaming over my skin.
No sun screen.
No organized sports or camps.
Just days so hot even the street boiled.
But none of that prepared me for the 20 years of summers I suffered through as an adult working in the Washington, D.C. area where the humidity and southern sun made July and August months I absolutely dreaded. It was hot on a scale that no one can understand unless they actually live through it day after day after day.
Just this week an airplane actually got stuck on the tarmac at National Airport because the runway itself buckled in the heat.
In 2007, I returned to my native New England as a professor of Creative Writing at Central Connecticut State University but, sadly, I feel I have brought the Washington, D.C. summers with me. Is it really so much hotter than when I was a young girl growing up here or have I just become another middle-aged woman who can’t seem to cool off?
I asked my brother, Dr. Jim Collins, a Professor of European History at Georgetown University, what he thought and he decided to actually investigate. He pulled out his Farmer’s Almanac (you’d think he was some old retired New England farmer) and discovered some truths about New England summers that even the most avid believers in global-warming might find startling.
Yes, on average the New England summers are only 1.5 degrees hotter, but that’s a simplistic measurement, as he made clear in a chart he sent me. What really matters is the much hotter New England evenings – they cool down 3.5 degrees less than they used to.
“So your sleeping nights were much better in the old days,” he wrote me. “In July 1961, there were 10 days below 60 (two below 50), as against one in July 2011.”
Even worse, extremely hot days in an endless sequence (such as we’ve just experienced) happen much more frequently. And the number of hot days prior to July 1 has hopped way up: in 1961 there was one day over 85 before July 1 but in 2011 there were 10.
“The small drop in average high temperatures, 1.5 degree, thus disguises a much sharper shift in the weather pattern, as we experience it day-to-day. The classic, really cool early summer night of New England has vanished.”
My 90-year-old house in West Hartford does not have central air conditioning because for generations owners would never think to waste money on such a thing when they could count on July nights dropping down into the 60s. Now I have small units in several windows that give off heat and burn energy that contribute even more to the pollution and CO2 that has created the warming trend to begin with. Ironically, the best answer may lie in harnessing the sun’s energy for solar power, something we all need to look to now rather than later.
When I sleep in an air-conditioned room in July, I miss the summer sounds and smells of the New England air that used to come through my open windows, especially in the early morning when the birds come alive in the maple trees. As a girl I remember sensing that the heat would come, that the temperature would rise, but for a moment, as I lay against cotton sheets with a breeze breaching the screen, I just couldn’t wait to go outside.
Mary Collins is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at CCSU. Visit her website at www.marycollinswriter.net