Monday, July 13, 2015

Let’s hope we don’t have to endure ’95-like summer any time in near future

Sunday was a summer-like day in Chicago – temperatures that got up into the high-70s Fahrenheit and enough humidity in the air that one wanted to wear as little clothing as possible while outside.

The big picture of what happened 20 years ago this week. Image provided by
Yet aside from putting on the fan that sits near where I tend to write, my thoughts were going back to that time 20 years ago.

BECAUSE IT HAS been exactly two full decades since that five-day stretch of time in mid-July 1995 when temperatures got so intense and people were caught so off-guard that the number of heat-related deaths skyrocketed.

Some 485 people officially died in Chicago due to the hot weather, although the city Health Department has acknowledged that as many as 739 people wound up dying because of heat as a contributing factor.

Consider that we the public got all worked up that about a dozen people were killed during the Independence Day holiday weekend due to gunfire.

I’m not diminishing the severity of that many homicides in the city. But we have to be honest – that was one incredibly hot time-span. It’s not something any of us wants to relive.

HOT AS HELL? We’d have to ask a deceased politician’s soul to find out precisely how hot the afterlife is for those of us who misbehaved during life on Earth.

The most serious explanation I ever heard of what caused the intense heat was an inadvertent shift in this planet’s weather patterns. For a couple of weeks in July of ’95, Chicago became hit by the kind of heat that usually hits Saudi Arabia. Just like our recent winters reached such record cold levels due to Arctic-like blasts swooping down through Canada and hitting large swaths of the United States.

The estimate turned out to be too low
In the Middle East, the locals have learned either how to tolerate the heat, or how to make themselves more comfortable. We in Chicago were caught off guard.

Particularly those amongst us who, for whatever reason, were inclined to live shut-in lifestyles and to think of air conditioning as some sort of stupid luxury for mental weaklings.

MANY OF THOSE amongst the hundreds who died fell into that category.

Which is why many of Chicago’s efforts to make “cooling centers” easily available to the public date back to the mid-1990s; just like that winter storm we always say took down Michael Bilandic as mayor and made future officials wary of the idea of letting the streets get too sloppy from snow and ice.

We don’t want a repeat of so many people being found dead in their apartments – so many people that the Cook County medical examiner’s office gave us the image of freezer trucks having to be parked outside their West Side offices to accommodate all the bodies that had to be processed.

Now I have to admit; I don’t have first-hand memories. Because back in that decade, I was living and working in Springfield, Ill. I usually joke about how I’m a native Chicago soccer fan who missed the sight of the World Cup in ’94 and the opening ceremonies being held at Soldier Field.

YET I FEEL fortunate that this was something I merely heard about on news reports while enduring a more reasonable summer sweat while working at the Statehouse.

Although I still remember talking to my own mother, who told me how my brother took her out to movie theaters just about every single day during that heat peak so they could enjoy the air conditioning.

She felt comfortable, even though she later joked about the agony of having to endure the sight of a lot of crummy films.

Which I’m sure is the kind of story we’d like to be hearing from those hundreds of people who did die because they didn’t have a place to go to help them cope with the hundred degree-plus temperatures that we got 20 years ago this week.


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