Behind the Scene
by Randy Limbird
Editor & Publisher, El Paso Scene
Summer isn’t just one season in El Paso, it’s actually two seasons. “Early Summer” starts in May — for example, this year we recorded our first 100-degree day on May 9 — and usually continues through June.
Early summer is marked by dry weather and temperatures that rise as quickly as the sun and fall just quickly after the sun sets. Mornings are sheer delight. If we’re lucky, it’s just cool enough to open all the windows by the time we go to bed.
I once saw a cartoon of two skeletons in the desert propped up against a tall cactus. One skeleton says to the other: “But it’s a dry heat.”
Low humidity is the saving grace of El Paso’s early summer. The drier the weather, the less oppressive the heat feels. And low humidity is what allows the temperature to drop so fast at night.
Swamp coolers were made for El Paso’s early summer. They work like a charm in dry heat. It’s the same reason that you can step out of a pool on a 100-degree day and suddenly start shaking with cold. The water on your skin evaporates so quickly that it chills you faster than the sun can warm you up. It’s also why you become dehydrated without knowing it — your sweat evaporates so quickly that you never realize you’ve been sweating.
By late June or early July comes “Second Summer” in El Paso. It’s called monsoon season because of the moisture moving in from the southeast off the Gulf of Mexico. A few puffy clouds in the morning sky turn into ominous thunderheads by afternoon. Thunderstorms seem to pick their targets randomly across the city — one part of town may get a downpour of an inch or more, another side of town stays dry.
Overall, El Paso gets about half its annual rainfall during the monsoon season — and most of its mosquitoes.
The sure sign of second summer is when people with swamp coolers begin asking, “When are we going to switch to refrigerated air?” As humidity goes up, evaporative cooling goes down. You not only sweat, but you definitely know you’re sweating.
Weather people use something they call the heat index, with combines temperature with humidity. The index is not about how hot it is, but how hot you feel. So June (with average humidity of 30 percent) technically may be the hottest month in El Paso in terms of temperature, but it feels hotter in July (44 percent humidity) and August (48 percent).
Of course, what we call humid in El Paso would be a relief to anyone who lives in really humid climate like Houston (with a year-round humidity of 78 percent). We may average a few degrees hotter than Houston during the summer, but no one would ever trade our weather for theirs.
Whether it’s the dry, scorching heat of June or the stickier warmth of July and August, at least it’s easy for El Pasoans to escape to cooler climes. We’re surrounded by mountain getaways in southern New Mexico, It’s only a two-hour drive to reach the relief of 9,000-feet-high Cloudcroft, where temperatures average about 20 degrees less than in El Paso.
This month’s feature story by Lisa Tate (see Page 21) offers more tips on how to beat the heat. You don’t have to drive as far as the mountains — chances are there’s a city pool or spash park just around the corner.
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