REFLECTIONS: My Comfort Zone
It's not the humidity. It's the dew point.
WHEN I say “my comfort zone” I am not speaking metaphorically. I literally mean my comfort zone—the temperature zone in which I find comfort. Which is, unfortunately for me, a very small slice of the overall temperature gradient.
Two weeks ago I was standing in the dog park while Weewee (not her real name) was running around conspicuously hiding from the other dogs, as is her wont. To a stranger, I looked pretty much the same as her. With my sweatshirt hood pulled up over my head, already covered by a baseball cap, with a blue corduroy jacket worn over the sweatshirt, wearing dark glasses (extreme light sensitivity being only one of many numerous afflictions from which I suffer) and fingerless black wool gloves, I looked at best like someone who was avoiding human contact and at worst … like something or somebody much worse than that.
In reality, I was simply cold. Two weeks ago, the temperature was in the upper-fifites and low-to-mid sixties. You may call that springlike; I call it cold, especially when the wind picks up or the sun goes behind a cloud. I’ve stood outside in much worse—during the depths of winter, when it was below freezing with ice and snow on the ground, Weewee huddled between my legs and shivering—but I was equipped for it, with wool long johns, top and bottom, as a first layer underneath many layers of alternating wool and cotton, all wrapped up in a big, black, super-hi-tech hood-to-knee-length parka made somewhere in Scandinavia, where they know from dog parks and standing outside in the rawest of elements.
Despite my best efforts to stay relatively warm, that was not my comfort zone (nor Weewee’s). You can layer yourself as best as you can to keep warm or unlayer yourself as much as possible to keep cool on the hottest of days, but neither will find you in your true comfort zone. Rather, it finds you doing everything you possibly can (because you’re neither God nor the weatherman) to replicate the conditions of your comfort zone within your immediate shell of clothing and skin.
But that is not how a comfort zone works. It is not just about your own, personal temperature. It is an environment, at the very least, encompassing a room, a house, a backyard, or perhaps even a dog park. And it is not only about temperature. I will say it until I am blue in the face (which I have been doing and now I am), but when it comes to warmer weather, what matters is not the heat nor the humidity but the dew point. One’s personal comfort relies not on the relative temperature nor the amount of moisture in the air but rather the dew point.
But what exactly, you may ask, is the dew point? I will tell you what is the dew point. I do not really know what it is. As previously noted, I am neither Willard Scott nor Jim Cantone. I am not even Al Roker. I am guessing that the dew point is the point at which dew forms. That seems like a fair, perhaps even educated guess. What it has to do with my personal comfort is your guess as much as it is mine. The difference between us is that I don’t really care what it is. All I care about is how it makes me feel. Facts aren’t feelings, after all.
What I do know is that for a good number of years I have been following the data closely, every day, multiple times a day, and I have determined that the best indicator of relative comfort during the warmer seasons (based on my relative feelings of comfort) is not the temperature nor the humidity but the dew point. I think this is what is called empirical observation. If I am wrong, then it is the opposite of empirical observation. Either way, the point remains: the key to comfort lies in the dew point.
This is less of a concern when the temperature is below 70. I have never taken notice of the dew point until the thermometer says at least 71. That is the point where things can begin to get tricky. A sunny, breezy day of 71 degrees—like we had here in Hudson, N.Y., this past Sunday—is a total delight. But mix in a high level of humidity, let it interact with relative airflow, shake it up and do whatever else is needed to create a dew point, and you can have a recipe for utter and total discomfort disaster.
As I write this (indoors, with an occasional blast of air conditioning turning what could be a hothouse into a comfort zone), it is 86 degrees and sunny out. Most people read that and think, “Wow, that sounds gorgeous.” I read it—hell, I wrote it—and it sounds hot to me and definitely uncomfortable. But the dew point is only 25, so it could be a lot worse. Or to put it another way—the way people who live in Arizona love to describe it—it is “a dry heat.” True enough. But if the dew point today were to top 59, one would have the makings of a tropical, syrupy stew. If the dew point got up to 65, it would really suck. If it got near or reached 70, I can pretty much guarantee you that you would find me naked in bed with the lights out and the air conditioning on, doing my best not to make any unnecessary, heat-generating movements that might cause me to overheat and emit steam out of my ears. Being self-employed, I would declare a “heat emergency” in my office and send everyone home for the day. Since I work at home, the only place to send myself would be to the bedroom. Which, of course, is the most comfortable zone in my house.