Fahrenheit 101: The Temperature Where Iowans Melt
by Patricia Draznin

Anyone who doesn’t like summer in Iowa is probably the same kind of person who wouldn’t like living in a clothes dryer. A damp clothes dryer. That would be me. I have no problem with temperatures approaching 98 degrees, as long as they’re inside my body. But on the outside I prefer more temperate conditions—partly cloudy and 69 degrees, with a 3% chance of perspiration. Every year without fail, there are several hours in April and mid October when I’ve been known to feel quite comfortable.

Nature has endowed all of her species with the right to remain cool. Cold-blooded ocean creatures, for example, have flexible internal temperatures that rise and fall with the seasons. This explains why you never see shrimp wearing little down vests or carrying parasols. Humans, however, are warm-blooded creatures whose thermostats are non-negotiable. But when temperatures soar, our bodies trigger that remarkable cooling reflex, compliments of Mother Nature, called Sweating Our Brains Out. And when sweating isn’t enough, we turn to the coldest modern miracle of the 20th century, the raspberry Slurpee.

Humidity is the feature that makes Iowa summers so special, like the rainforest minus the forest. Invented in the 1950s by a chemist in Des Moines, humidity is the suspension of tiny water droplets in the air that makes it possible for envelopes to seal themselves while they’re still in the damn box. Of the earth’s estimated 3,100 cubic miles of water vapor, Iowa’s market share makes this state an honorary third world country. Humidity-rich climates like the Midwest—where the phrase was coined, “Hot enough for ya?”—inspired the invention of the Heat Index, enabling weather reports to capture the combined experience of suffocating moisture plus intense heat: “Temperature 89, feels like 90.” “Temperature 97, feels like Nicaragua.” “Temperature 102, feels like a clothes dryer. A damp clothes dryer.”

Understanding Iowa humidity: A simple experiment. Soak one Iowan in a large bowl of warm water. Wring out the Iowan into a pot and measure the water. This is how wet the average Iowan feels in summer. This is humidity.

Everybody complains about the weather but nobody invents a Thermal Suctionometer. Until now. Here’s how it works. Iowa summers have a surplus of hot temperatures that go entirely to waste, unless you’re a tomato plant or a tuna casserole. When the thermometer exceeds 80, the Suctionometer sucks those extra degrees right out of the air. And we store them in a jar (with a tight lid) until January, when we need to defrost our car batteries. (Note: label the jar.) In sub-zero temperatures, we open the jar and wait until the thermometer hits 25. And voila! Outdoor climate control. You’re probably wondering why you didn’t think of this first. But you’re not too late to buy your very own Suctionometer for just twelve easy payments of $29.99. And if you call now, we’ll throw in a free jar (with a tight lid) (and a label). It beats living in a clothes dryer.

Copyright 2005 Patricia Draznin


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