Editor’s Note

On Heat Intolerance

Why doesn’t our humid heat get the respect that it deserves?

By Scott Vogel June 2, 2014 Published in the June 2014 issue of Houstonia Magazine

When it comes to suffering, is there really a difference between a Houston summer and a Chicago winter?

2014 marks the 30th anniversary of an important milestone in modern psychiatry, the first references in the literature to seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. In the decades since, the malady has been consistently and exclusively identified with wintertime depression, a bias which eternally offends the Southerner, who becomes marginalized and displeased, or MAD. After all, summertime can bring its own constellation of depressive symptoms, particularly in hot and humid locales like our own, although that fact seems to have escaped Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the callous academic dolt, or CAD, credited with first studying the disorder. SAD exists wherever there is an indoor season, an annual hibernation. Summer is our time for cheerlessness, cabin fever, and crocheting doilies, which is to say lifestyle changes that put one at increased risk for becoming pessimistic, lethargic, and inordinately depressed, or PLAID. 

If this were a typical editor’s note, I would now pivot to a discussion of this month’s Houstonia and how it is a perfect antidote to the summertime blues, possessing as it does a surgical examination of the Museum District’s offerings and countless clever suggestions for bringing your fitness regimen indoors. In an effort to ensure the continuing superfluity of my monthly message, however, I will instead touch briefly on the subject of climatological prejudice and its consequences. 

Nearly every region of the country is subject to a continuous spate of bad weather of approximately three months duration. Such periods are monotonous, joyless, require long periods of indoor confinement, and found just about everywhere. An August day in Houston is no different, in that sense, from a February one in Minneapolis, or shouldn’t be. This being an America still mired in ancient prejudices, however, the bitter cold is afforded a measure of respect that humid heat is denied. Thus do 10-foot snowdrifts in one’s driveway make Chicago seem challenging but in no sense unlivable. Thus do months of rainclouds, which turn all of Seattle into a dimly lit mud wrestling ring, make that city difficult but not impossible. So how is it that Houston’s summers—of drenching sweat acquired during the 10-second walk from house to burning steering wheel—leave much of the country with the impression that living here is unthinkable? We’re really just one more place with a season of suffering, not “the devil’s holiday spot,” as Clarence Wills put it in his immortal potboiler Lethal Bodies: Houston Heat.

Then again, weather bigotry has its upsides. Absent that, every U-Haul in America would be speeding to our fair city, rather than just 93 percent of them. If not for this atmospheric apartheid, transplants would be swarming over the entire Gulf Coast, creating bumper-to-bumper Galveston traffic on summer weekends, thereby cheating us of the privilege. They’d buy up all our houses, thus reserving for themselves the peculiar pleasure that is $400-a-month electric bills. 

But don’t worry, that won’t happen. This being the devil’s holiday spot, the rest of the country wants no part of us. 

And for that, Houstonians should be open to my extraordinary conclusion: each and every denizen is now genuinely lucky, yes, that Gulf lands aren’t desirable. 


—Scott Vogel

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