"Art is a kind of illness." — Giacomo Puccini

Record April Heat Wave Bakes San Francisco


 

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For the past 3 days, San Francisco has been baked by a record heat wave. What that means in real numbers around here is highs of 86° to 93°. As somebody who grew up in the Midwest, this isn’t too impressive. After all, there I endured months of temperatures at least that high, along with unbearable humidity—not to mention the winters. However, San Francisco is a different kind of place.

The real secret to weather in San Francisco is not the temperature, but the wind. Tucked just inside the Golden Gate along California’s Central Coast, San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by water that rarely exceeds 60 degrees. This gives us mild temperatures year round. In the summer, though, the heat inland near Sacramento draws in the cool air from the ocean. All this cool air passes the coast through the Golden Gate resulting in very cold summer sea breezes that keep the City very cool, often just plain cold. We can always tell the tourists in San Francisco during the summer time as they huddle, freezing to death, at the cable car stops in shorts and flip-flops.

What we get in exchange for this cruel meteorological injustice are amazing springs and falls. Even in winter the weather here is often nicer than during the summer, unless it’s raining. (When it rains here, it often REALLY rains.) This week we got our hottest heat wave so far this year. Since our weather here is so mild there are not many air conditioners in San Francisco, so when it gets hot here, it FEELS really hot because there is virtually no where to escape the heat.

Yesterday, my partner and I went on a long walk to enjoy the heat. It turned out to be a bit much for me. I wore SPF48 sunblock, but still got sunburned. About 2/3 of the way through our trip, I had to give up and take the bus home. The sun had been too much for too long. My head was pounding, and I started feeling nauseous. I felt a little embarrassed, but then I realized that spending 6 hours out in 96° heat was likely to make most people suffer. We returned home to a baking hot apartment that offered no respite. The wind we curse most days of the year had let us down.

For what it’s worth, the record heat and lack of our usual sea breeze offered a rare opportunity to comfortably walk across the Golden Gate Bridge wearing shorts and t-shirt. Usually, this would be a miserably cold experience. The last time I went across the bridge on foot was August 3, 2008, running the San Francisco Marathon. It was 58°, foggy, windy and very cold. This time, it was so hot we had to stop to take shelter in the shade of the bridge tower. I suppose it will be a long time before that happens again, so it seemed worth documenting with a photo.


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