Cover up to stay cool

by Radio Somewhere

I spent a couple of hours of this awfully hot day at the West Seattle Junction Street Fair, manning the booth of the Southwest Seattle Historical Society. Normally, I enjoy this kind of thing — but the heat really took much of the usual fun out of it. I did manage to do my usual bit of people watching though — and couldn’t help noticing how many people were inadequately dressed for the weather.

When the temperature goes above 90F (around 30C), the rules for comfort change in ways that are sometimes counterintuitive — even to those of us who have studied applied climatology.

For example, running a fan will not keep you cooler — and may make you hotter. I found this out for sure driving across Nebraska on a hot afternoon. We were in a Geo Tracker (no A/C) with the sun roof open and the windows down, i.e., the front half of the vehicle was wide open. When we stopped for gas and a snack, we were immediately more comfortable. So, before going back on the highway, we closed up the sunroof and rolled the windows up almost all the way — enough to keep air from blowing over us. And we kept it like that until we got into cooler weather east of the Mississippi river. Keeping the sun off us helped, as did preventing the flow of hot air over our skin, which was causing a net flow of heat towards us via momentum transfer that outweighed the cooling due to evaporation.

Another example. When I was young, I hiked in tank top and shorts in hot weather. Then, when I found myself older and wiser, I tried something different. On a hike through Castlewood Canyon in Colorado on a hot, sunny June day, I wore long, lightweight pants, a long-sleeved, white, brushed-cotton shirt, and a sunhat with a huge brim. I was amazed at how comfortable I was all day. And I felt bad for the undergraduate students (it was a class trip) who were clearly suffering in shorts and tank tops and no hats — despite drinking copious amounts of water. It really helps to keep the sun off your skin.

Today, I wore a long skirt and a shirt with sleeves to the elbows — and a sun bonnet! The heat of the day was a bit much — but I kept the sun at bay. So many women and girls were in tank and halter tops and cut-off denim shorts that were so tight, I can’t imagine how they were not dying from the heat. Tight clothing is the worst in hot weather — the sweating process is unable to cool you effectively. For ladies, the coolest thing you can wear in hot weather is a long skirt or dress with shoulders, arms and head covered up — like in the Middle East. For guys, lightweight pants or long shorts with a Hawaiian shirt. If you consider the standard dress where hot weather is the norm, you notice that people tend to cover up rather than expose. I don’t know why us folks in the mid latitudes don’t follow their lead a little more.

Besides, long skirts are graceful and feminine — and cover aging legs. Today’s bright sunlight was not flattering for any woman of any age with any hint of cellulite. (Even young, slim girls seemed to be afflicted.)