Skip to Content

Minnesotans have weather skills — we just need to use them in summer

Garden hose
CC/Flickr/Thomas Hawk
Who needs AC when you have a garden hose?

When Minnesotans hear that the temperature is about to drop to 30 degrees below zero they're more likely to say “Bring it on” rather then “Oh, no.”

But give us a few weeks of hot weather and we are hopeless wimps.  We leave our air-conditioned homes for our air-conditioned cars and head for our air-conditioned offices.

We would like to ride our bikes, walk our dogs or go for a run, but we heed the warnings that the heat is a killer. So we stay inside something, anything that is a cool 75 degrees.  Wimps.

We need to get with the program. This summer the program is hot and dry. We need to learn how to live with that the way we learn to live with 30 degrees below zero.

I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., where the temperature and the humidity both hit the 90s in May and stayed that way until late September. Life did not stop. And because I am quite old, there was not much that was air conditioned when I was a kid.

Most people turned on fans at night

Air conditioning was limited to the downtown movie theaters, a few department stores and some fancy restaurants. Nobody I knew had an air-conditioned house, and air-conditioned cars had not been invented.

To stay cool, most people opened up their houses at night and turned on fans to bring the night air inside. We did that.

We had a huge window fan in an upstairs bedroom window. When we closed all of the doors and windows in the house at night, except those in the bedrooms, and turned on the fan we could produce a breeze that made sleeping possible. It was air moving over your sweaty body. It felt cooler than no air moving over your sweaty body.

In the morning some people would close up their houses and draw the drapes to keep the sunshine out and the temperature down. We did not do that. With three kids in the family, closing up the house was impossible. So we learned to live with the heat.

No pool, but we had a hose

Our town did not have a swimming pool. There were no lakes. But just about every house had a garden hose. What more do you need? Somebody’s mother would stick her head outside and say the magic words:  “Go home and put on your swim suits.” We didn’t need a pool.

We were wet, and the grass got watered.

We rode our bikes. We played softball in the street. We spread old blankets on the grass and played board games in the shade. And when we decided it was too hot we moved into the basements.

My friend Eddie had a play area in his basement back behind the furnace. There was a table, some chairs and a pile of board games. We spent hours there. I cannot look at a Monopoly game without remembering Eddie and his basement.

Next door to Eddie my friend Janet had a basement with old clothes stored in bin along one wall. We played dress up and fought over the choice outfits.

In my basement I had a clubroom. It was a set off from the rest of the basement by old sheets hanging from rope and it was called the GMS Club. I could explain what GMS means, but then I would have to kill you.

It was hot, but even we kids knew that it was cooler in the basement.

Dressing up for the Cardinals

Adults also went on with their lives even when they were dripping with sweat. The St. Louis Cardinals played outside, and people dressed up to go to games. If Stan Musial could play ball in a wool uniform, then the spectators shouldn’t complain about showing up in business attire.

Minnesota Baseball gameCourtesy of the Minnesota Historical SocietySpectators at a baseball game behind the West Hotel in Minneapolis, ca. 1890.

My friend Janet’s mother had a huge garden and a big flock of chickens. She was in the garden at first light every morning, and she worked until she finished what needed to be done. Then she started on what needed to be done in the house.

My father worked downtown. He wore a suit and tie every day to an office that was not air-conditioned and drove his car, which was not air-conditioned, to meet sales clients. If the office or the car got too hot he could open the windows.

My mother was not a morning person. She did her ironing at night after the window fan was pulling cool air into the house. If you don’t understand about ironing I will leave it at this: It was hot work that was never finished.

Sometimes we gave up. Sometimes we couldn’t take it anymore. For those times we had Guy Miller’s Cafeteria. Mr. Miller had air-conditioning. He also had good food, low prices and all the iced tea you could drink. A family of five could eat their dinner there without breaking the bank and go home to a clean kitchen.

When the temperature hit 100 Mr. Miller played to a packed house.

It was hot outside. At home it was hot inside. And life went on. We grew accustomed to the heat of summer the way Minnesotans grow accustomed to 30 degrees below zero in the winter.

The skill

What we know about cold weather is that the first time the temperature dips into the teens we think we are freezing to death. A few months later when the temperature climbs into the teens we think it’s time for shorts and tank tops. It’s all a matter of getting into shape. Weatherwise.

We need to learn how to do the same thing for hot weather. We waited all winter for summer to arrive and now that it is here, now that it is hot, we should get outside and get on with life.

We all know survival skills. We just haven’t discovered that they are required for temperature extremes at both ends of the thermometer. 

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author:

Comments (8)

Weather wimps is it...could be...

A Robbins and Meyer fan from the forties inherited from my father-in-law rests on the butcher block pulling cool air from the big lake which they say has reached its zenith temperature-wise this summer; 72 degrees. Fan still works like an old charm and so far does not overheat its motor.

Window air conditioners sit idle in the closet yet to be used in spite of the heat.

I can remember some time ago in the 50's Linden Hills drugstore invested in air conditioning...so cold at first it was like walking into a meat locker...loved it then as a novel experience, but as a neighbor, one elder gentlemen proclaimed to the druggist and attendant customers..."Come for my prescriptions for my heart condition and I'll have a stroke in the process."

The 'old geezer' winked after making such an announcement to the druggist...who faithfully adjusted his cool air installation.

K Boros has made a few fine points of view. We are weather wimps of summer heat. maybe call it sweat equity and by the way, when you turn your sprinkler on if there isn't a water shortage ban on, stick out a bowl of water on the boulevard for dogs out walking their human companions?

Too hot?

RUE THE DAY OR SEIZE IT,eh?

due credit...

Must be the heat.."weather wimps" should have quotes around it,yup.

Attuned to the most extreme season

I love summer. I love the heat. I go outside on hot days and revel in it.

I am a cold wimp.

While I agree that we've gone way too far in keeping the summer time temperatures in our offices and homes cool, it's a little unfair to call most Minnesotans weather wimps. Many are simply more attuned to cold weather because that's what was more likely to kill us in the past. Yeah, it's been hot here, before. But it's not complete ignorance that results in people down in Georgia asking, when a Minnesotan visits in July, isn't it cold up there? It does not get to 90 with 90% humidity in May and stay that way until late September. At least it didn't used to do that. For much of the year, it is relatively cold here, and for several months, it's outright uninhabitable to those that aren't used to it.

That being said, we can all lay off the cold buildings a bit. I hate walking from sweltering heat into a store only to have my sweat instantly freeze to my body. (Ok, that's an exaggeration. But not much.) I'm uncomfortable in my work office because it's cold. All the time. And not just compared to the temperature outside, but objectively cold. It does NOT have to be 68 degrees anywhere in the middle of July. We could all definitely get outside and run through the sprinkler, even if it is only every other day.

We should also be careful. This heat CAN kill you. A young girl died a few weeks ago while biking on a trail, presumably due to the heat. We can't ignore that, either.

Insane AC!

I carry a coat in my car all summer long. I need it when I go into grocery stores and other insanely cold air-conditioned retail outlets, and then take it off when I return outside.

I also have a jacket and gloves in my office because the AC is set so low that my hands will actually start getting numb when my work involves sitting at my desk without moving around much.

We really do get carried away with the AC settings. It's unnecessary, illogical, and wasteful.

Weather wimps

Indeed… I spent my first half-century or so in metro St. Louis, and Ms. Boros is right on target. Basements, garden hoses, fans, open windows, all combined to help us get through the summers just fine.

On a visit to the old homestead a year or two back, I went to a Cardinal game at the new(est) Busch Stadium. It was 90 degrees at game time, with a dew point that very nearly matched. The atmosphere was much like sharing a locker room with 40,000 others. We all sat there, watching the players play the game on the field, while sweat ran down our arms.

While the TV weather people marvel at the Twin Cities having more than one 100-degree day this summer, I’m reminded that St. Louis just finished a stretch of 10 consecutive days over 100 degrees, and there will be more before the summer is over.

As for dry, yes it has been. I learned xeric gardening in Colorado, and am in the process of trying to transfer some of that knowledge. Even if the charts say that the Twin Cities are in the same climate zone as Denver (they do), it’s really not quite the same. Humans have survived and prospered because we’re adaptable creatures. This just happens to be one of those summers where that adaptation is really somewhat necessary.

But where is the sleeping porch when you need it?

My grandma's house had a wrap around porch with large windows that folded back leaving only the screens in place. Because it was shaded in the summer it was a wonderful place to sleep with great cross ventilation.

In the winter you could put the windows back in place and with a blanked and a good book chase the light all day as the sun favored first one side of the room then the other.

How is this different from winter?

Really? When it's 30 below out everyone runs from their heated cars to their heated houses/office buildings which are 60 degrees different from the outside than 20-30 degrees we'll cool things during the hottest part of summer. It's uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Why deal with it if you don't have to?

I was in Japan early in June, and

due to the shutdown of the country's nuclear power plants, they're on an electricity-saving kick.

This means that the air conditioning in the hotels is set at 28°C--about 81°F.

That's too warm to sleep covered with anything heavier than a sheet, but at least the AC still removed the humidity from the air, and even that is a blessing in a steamy Japanese summer.