All things in moderation: Especially when it comes to summer

By Jayson Jacoby August 20, 2010 09:29 am

It’s been a strange summer in Baker County, weather-wise, but in my estimation a particularly pleasant one.

The season, should its current patterns persist clear through until autumn, now scarcely a month away, will rank as an especially moderate example of its kind.

This pleases me because our summers, when they diverge any great distance from average, tend to be decidedly uncomfortable.

Abnormally hot summers, for instance, annoy me because they soil what seems to me the essential reward of this golden season. This of course is the ability to go outdoors wearing a minimum of clothing and not worry overmuch about whether you’ve memorized the proper remedies for heatstroke.

During a local heat wave, though, there’s scarcely any time, between the sun’s rise and set, when I can venture outside a climate-controlled space without constantly reminding myself that, well, it’s awfully hot out here and I think I’d rather go back inside.

Yet the opposite meteorological situation is merely another brand of summer betrayal.

Much as I despise sweltering, I also don’t want to wear gloves to keep my fingers flexible while I’m mowing the grass or plucking weeds from among the petunias and the penstemon.

This current waning summer, though, as I intimated, has in the main avoided both sides of the inclement spectrum. It has instead bestowed on us the sweet balm of the sun’s warmth yet spared us the star’s blistering side effects.

As things stand today, this summer, by one temperature yardstick, is the least-scorching since 1993.

Yet by another standard — one which takes into account the temperature during the period when barbecues are most often ignited, and softball game first pitches thrown — this summer is far from frigid.

As regards the summer’s lack of sizzle, my measurement of choice is the number of days on which the temperature has reached or exceeded 90 degrees.

This seems to me a logical threshold. I suspect that the vast majority of people who have not lived long in, say, Tucson would agree with me that 90 is an appropriate adjectival point at which to swap temperate for toasty.

In a typical year there are about 26 such days in Baker City. (“Typical year” is purely a theoretical notion, of course, but one also useful, when “typical” stands in for “average,” in assessing the climate of a place.)

Most of those days, as you’d expect, belong either to August (average: 11) or to July (10).

So far in 2010, though, the total of 90-degree days is a mere 11 at the Baker City Airport. That’s where official measurements are taken, by a gang of automated instruments.

Since 1965, which is the farthest into history for which temperature records of sufficient detail are available to make comparisons, only one year had fewer than 11 stifling summer days.

(1965, by the way, is also the year the Beatles put out “Rubber Soul,” an event rather more significant than the onset of comprehensive climatic record-keeping in Baker City.)

That year was 1993, and what a summer it was.

Or, rather, wasn’t.

No summer in the past 70 years rivals the 1993 iteration for sheer stubbornness in acknowledging the angle of the earth’s axis tilt.

(I know I just wrote that 1965 was a key juncture in local weather lore, and so it is; however, less-detailed records, which include monthly averages but not the number of 90-degree days, extend all the way back to the early 1940s.)

The temperature at the airport touched 90 on a mere five days during 1993 — one in July, three in August and one in September.

Few months have ever been as iconoclastic as July 1993. The average high temperature was 72.7 degrees — almost 12fi degrees below the long-term average of 85.1.

That’s akin to a January thaw that didn’t merely turn snow into slush, but also provoked the crocus into blooming.

This July was considerably more balmy than 1993, with seven 90-degree days — although on four of those days the high was precisely 90, and on two of the three others the high was 91.

This July’s high point of 93 degrees is the lowest for any July since — no second guesses needed — 1993.

Nor has the 93-degree mark been eclipsed in August.

And yet, though we have not often broiled in Baker County this summer, neither have we been chilled much, at least in the afternoons, since Independence Day.

Post-holiday, the temperature has failed to reach 75 degrees — comfortably warm, I’d wager, by anyone’s definition save that aforementioned Arizonan — on just three days out of 47.

On 41 of those 47 days, in fact, the high temperature fell between 80 and 92, a range that in my view is ideal for eating watermelon while reclining in a chaise.

Little surprise, then, that in sharp contrast to 1993, this July was only slightly cooler than usual, with an average high of 82.9.

(Average lows, though, almost eclipsed the July 1993 record — 43.5 degrees for this July compared with 42.9.)

The real climatic lesson, I suppose, is that even when our summers are short on the kind of day that prompts bored TV reporters to crack eggs on unsanitized parking lots, shorts and flip-flops still are perfectly suitable attire on most days.

Which, in a valley where frost is possible in any month, and the term “below zero” a necessary part of the local lexicon, seems to me about the limit of what we can rightfully demand from any season.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.