GAYS MILLS - You expect it to be warm in Wisconsin during the summer. We long for heat all winter, look forward to it, wish for it. Someone must have been wishing too hard lately. But what is real stressful is a day with fairly high heat, humidity that is plenty high, and a stiff wind blowing all day. A day like that makes me almost miss winter.
The comfort index (formerly called the discomfort index) is a handy guide and it is well-named. The way I understand it you add the temperature in degrees and the humidity percentage together to get a comfort number. Anything over 150 starts to feel uncomfortable.
That explains why you can feel OK when the temperature is 100 but the humidity is 20 or 30 percent as happens out west a lot. Your body can sweat like it is supposed to do and you stay cool. But when it gets ‘close,’ like 80/80, 80 degrees and 80 percenthumidity, do the math, it gets sticky and you feel like you have a rubber suit on and can’t cool off.
One of the main functions of an air conditioner is to dry the air, lowering the humidity. Step into an air conditioned place on a sticky day and you feel better immediately, at least half of which comes from your perspiration being able to get away from you. Our bodies are water cooled and dry air helps with that.
I think that a wind factor should be added to the comfort index. It is part of the winter comfort index after all. The wind chill factor can multiply the effect of low temperatures and cause problems. And a nice summer breeze can cool and refresh. But when we get a hot, strong wind, one that is stiff, and gusty, my comfort index is affected. Call me a ‘windophobe.’ The only thing good about that kind of wind is that it helps dry the firewood.
I recall at least two references to hot steady wind in things that I’ve read. Joan Didion wrote a short story about the infamous Santa Ana winds of Southern California. These two- or three-day blows come in off the deserts, usually in the fall and winter. You’d think nice warm winds would be welcome in the cooler seasons, but they really upset Californians and put them on edge. Murder, robbery, and suicide rates spike during Santa Ana winds.