I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could.
For me that was the summer of 1979, the year I graduated from college. I drove down to Texas from Michigan with my wife Janet in a brand-new car that lacked air conditioning. (Yes, they still made cars without air conditioning back then when the wooly mammoths still roamed freely.) We learned the joys of Texas 2-55 air conditioning that summer (the two front windows rolled down as you go 55 mph down a Texas highway – it was so long ago the double-nickel speed limit was the law).
I grew up in Michigan. Its summers are cool. You often need a windbreaker at night. Its winters are cold, really cold. Not Minnesota or Alaska cold, but cold enough, with an overlay of damp from the Great Lakes surrounding Michigan’s peninsulas.
I was warned about the Texas summers by my Michigan friends as I prepared to move down that Memorial Day weekend. They are going to be hot. If you live on the Gulf Coast they are going to be muggy. They are going to be long. In Texas summer’s heat kicks in around mid-April and does not depart until October starts (or sometimes, November).
For nearly forty years since then I have lived in Texas, either on the Texas Gulf Coast or the Piney Woods. I have camped in the Big Thicket. Visited the Hill Country and the Blackland Prairie. Travelled to the Dallas-Fort Worth Area and the prairies around them.
My friends were right. Texas summers are hot. And long. Sometimes, especially in the northern part of the state, Texas summers are just hot. In the middle, they are hot and humid. Along the Gulf Coast, they are hot and muggy. They are glorious.
Maybe I am strange. (Well, maybe not maybe.) I love the hot summers; even the hot, damp summers. You go outside and the heat soaks into your bones, whether it is the broiler heat of North Texas or the steamer heat of the coast. I like that. Maybe it is my Mediterranean ancestry. (All four grandparents came from Greece.) All I know is when I grew up in Michigan the winter cold would soak into my bones in early November and not leave until late June. Give me that Texas summer so I can feel warm.
I especially like the damp heat of the Texas Gulf Coast. Yes, you build up sweat on your t-shirt walking from the front door to the mailbox. Yes, when it is humid enough you feel like you leave your outline in the air as you pass through it.
On the other hand, it tends to stay in the high 80s or low 90s on the Gulf Coast. You almost never hit the triple-digit temperatures of the DFW area or prairies. The Gulf keeps it that way, using a good chunk of the Sun’s energy converting water to vapor. Then the vapor cools down the place when it is carried onshore and falls as rain.
Want relief? Go inside. Just about every indoor place in Texas is air-conditioned. Air conditioning kills the humidity. In a Texas summer, you can set the thermostat to 80 and feel cool. (So cool you might put on a light sweater.)
As long as you take precautions the heat will not kill you. Don’t sit out in the midday sun. (Especially in Texas – if you think Houston is bad for sunburn, try San Antonio – or San Angelo – or Brenham – or anywhere inland.) If you have to be outside midday, wear a hat with a big brim. (There is a reason the Mexican sombrero, Texas Stetson, and Australian digger hats all have wide brims.) That baseball cap or gimmie cap will keep your scalp from getting sunburned and keep the sun off your eyes (unless you wear it sideways, gangsta style), but it won’t do squat for your ears or neck.
When you are outside push fluids; lots of them, regardless of the time of day. Find a breezy spot in the shade and let your body emulate the Gulf through evaporative cooling. Put off heavy outdoor work until the hour before sunset or the two hours after sunrise. (It helps to be an early riser. I am.)
The best part of a Texas summer is that it means come November I will avoid one more Michigan winter.