Hot enough for you? Bring out the wet bulb kit

With 32 states under serious heat advisory warnings, there’s a good chance many of us are feeling the heat. Back in the not-so-good-old days many federal offices didn’t have air conditioning, or the A/C was so new, or so ancient it didn’t work when things got hot.

Many people still in government can remember when federal agencies near the White House had windows that opened and fans, both government-issue and privately-owned, struggled to create a breeze. Often on hot and humid days the right combination of temperature and moist air could send people home. But back before 24/7 reporting and weather apps, who knew for sure?

When things got really hot, back in the day, somebody from the personnel department (now Human Resources) would come around with a 1930s thermometer-looking device that had a bulb, a pump and gauges that supposedly registered the indoor air temperature and humidity. When it hit certain levels, like 98 degrees and 82% humidity, feds could be released from work. And it happened a lot. But not often enough for some people. One problem was that even if the A/C wasn’t working for many or most, things might be fine in the Office of the Secretary, the administration or the director. If he or she didn’t feel hot under the collar they might be reluctant to give the abandon-ship order.

During a similar hit wave last year, a reader sent me a clip (in the original papyrus) of a 1994 “Federal Diary” column I did for The Washington Post, which reads in part:


“If you were reading this column on a 100-degree day 20 years ago, you would be doing it in the comfort of your home rather than on the way to, or at, the office. Alas, feds suffering the heartbreak of prickly heat on days with triple-digit temperatures no longer have the Misery Index to fall back on.

“For many years, sweltering feds watched the index (listing unacceptable indoor temperatures and humidity levels) like serious gamblers watch the lottery drawing. When the Misery Index indoor levels registered, bingo, it was time to go home …”

Another equally hot-under-the-collar old-timer sent the following reminder of how feds in heat conducted themselves:

“Older feds like myself will remember the days in D.C. back in the [1960s] and earlier when many government buildings, other than executives’ offices with their own [air conditioning] window units, were not air conditioned, and fans were ubiquitous, as were openable windows.

“However, under guidelines put out in those bygone days by the old Civil Service Commission, workers had to be dismissed once indoor wet bulb temperature readings reached dangerously high levels. [I] have searched for but couldn’t find the old maximum temperature policy guidance to jog my memory as to the exact indoor maximum temperature number that had to be reached. Believe me, things in the ‘good old pre-A/C [days], in most federal offices, summertime’ … weren’t.” — WTR

Stay cool. Bottom line: It’s summertime wherever you work, which, despite what people tell you, isn’t the worst place to be. Enjoy it while you can.

Nearly Useless Factoid

By Amelia Brust

The Dutch city of Utrecht added green roofs to the tops of 316 bus stops to encourage bee pollination, capture fine dust and store rainwater.

Source: Bored Panda

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