We got a cold front last Saturday. At 12:45 PM it was 93 degrees out. By 1:15 it was down to 83, and by 1:45 it got down to 78 degrees. And then it rained.
You don’t know how wonderfully cool 78 degrees can feel in mid-afternoon until it hits that quickly after 11 days in a row of triple-digit temperatures.
It didn’t last, of course. Our high was back up in the 90s again today — an improvement over 102, but not a temperature one can call cool. Pleasant enough in the shade, but the sun was unforgiving. It always is this time of year.
Back when we were still in the throes of the triple digits, I looked at weather.com to see if there was any relief in sight. Here’s what I saw at the top of the weather.com page:
Dangerous heat index. Limit outdoor exposure.
Yes, it was in red on the weather site, too. They wanted to make sure we didn’t miss it.
It’s August in Austin. Anyone with any sense has left.
But despite August, if you ask me why I like living in Austin, I’m not going to tell you it’s the music scene, or my love of the Texas Hill Country, or even that I’m a fifth generation Texan (on both sides).
The truth is, what I really like about Austin is the climate.
OK, so I get tired of the summer heat like anyone else. This year is just normally unpleasant. Last year, when we had the worst drought since before the American Revolution and shattered the record for triple digit days (I think we went over 100 on 90 days), it was miserable.
And I do worry that, with climate change, the summer of 2011 may be our norm.
But even if the sunshine is dangerous, I love it. When it’s this hot, I prefer to enjoy the sun from inside the house (with the AC on), or sitting under a large tree with something cool to drink, but I still want to have it around.
We get that sunshine year round. Contrary to popular belief, the seasons do change in Austin — we have spring, summer, I can’t believe it’s this hot, more summer, and fall. And between Thanksgiving and the official first day of spring, we get occasional bouts of winter — a freeze here, a little sleet there, maybe even some snow.
But regardless of the season, we get a lot of sun. And when we get enough rain to go with it, we get a bounty in greenery. A wet winter gives us beautiful wildflowers — the bluebonnets for which we’re famous along with lots of others — and even the cacti bloom.
Summer starts sometime in May and runs through September, but usually only July and August are ridiculously hot. We get spring in March — imagine my surprise when I moved to Washington, D.C., and discovered how much winter occurs in March — and our springs are delightful. We rarely get those freezes that hit just after everything’s bloomed.
Fall is equally pleasant — no nasty early cold front to ruin Hallowe’en. We may not get the fall colors of New England, but you can still tell the season is changing.
Winter can show up at any time, but it’s not unusual to be able to go swimming outside on Christmas Day. And then there’s February. In D.C., February was a never-ending month of cold, wet grayness. The worst snows usually hit then. I had begun to think February was the worst month of the year. But in Austin, it might be the best one. In my first February back in Central Texas, I ate dinner outside at the Grist Mill in Gruene, Texas — something I probably wouldn’t do in August.
This may not be a perfect climate — I’d be much happier if the mercury never got above 85 — but I’m willing to put up with a certain amount of heat to enjoy the sun year round. In a recent piece in the NY Times, Jennifer Finney Boylan said we all make compromises to appreciate the weather where we live and think other people are crazy to live where they do.
She suggests those compromises might be a good thing:
Maybe climate, and the bargains that it forces upon us, are the last things that make us mysterious to one another. The same Ruby Tuesdays and Walmarts might be found from Tulsa, Okla., to Bangor, Me., but the temperament of the souls who live in those cities will always be different, as long as Oklahomans have tornadoes and winter wheat and Mainers have blackflies and aurora borealis.
I like that idea, though it’s clear to me that Boylan is crazy to live in Maine.
Meanwhile, I’ll put up with August in Austin as the price I pay for sunshine and mild temperatures in February.
Or sort of put up with it. I’m on a plane outta here tomorrow for a few days in Northern California.
Even I have my limits.