Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Charles Owens

July 10, 2013

Nature’s Air Conditioned City is once again living up to its name

— Much of the country has been baking under some serious record-setting heat this summer. But here in Bluefield — Nature’s Air-Conditioned City — it still hasn’t hit 90 degrees. That’s right. No free lemonade has been served to date. This is somewhat unusual considering that we have already reached the mid-point of summer.

California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico by comparison have all reported temperatures hitting in the triple digits. The heat also is on in the far West, including Utah, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Phoenix recently set a new nighttime record of 91 degrees. Wow. Can you imagine a 91-degree night?

Now I will admit it was hot Tuesday in Bluefield. The mercury actually climbed to about 85 degrees. That’s an improvement I guess over all of the cloudy skies and rain showers we’ve had in recent days. And the mercury should climb into the low 80s again today. But temperatures are expected to then fall back into the 70s for the next couple of days after that.

It’s also worth noting that the nights here in the coalfields can still be a little cool at times. So far this summer I haven’t really had to turn the window fans on at night. It’s just not been that hot — at least not out in the country.

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It’s actually not unusual for Bluefield to have a summer without free lemonade being served. In fact, it’s happened plenty of times in the past. And that is just what the late Eddie Steele was hoping for when he dreamed up the city’s unique lemonade promotion so many years ago.

The year was 1939 to be exact. That is when Steele dared to dream of a unique marketing campaign that would put the city of Bluefield on the map. Steele realized that there was something unique about the greater Bluefield area. And he was correct. There is something special about the mountains and the geography of Bluefield. We rarely hit 90 degrees.

Initially, Steele, then secretary of the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, came up with the idea of offering free rooms at the West Virginian Hotel if the local temperature reached the 90-degree mark. Steele scrapped that idea when an Odd Fellows convention was in town and the promotion proved expensive. Bloodied, but unbroken, Steele came up with the simple yet brilliant idea of serving free lemonade in the city when the mercury climbed above 90 degrees. At about that same time, Steele authored Bluefield’s time-tested slogan, “Nature’s Air-Conditioned City.”

It would be two years before the mercury would actually hit 90 in Bluefield. That was the pre-war summer of 1941. The historic milestone marked the debut of the beloved Lemonade Lassies, who would pour their first servings of free lemonade across the city. History took note of the special occasion.

The rest, as they say, was history.

The promotion caught on, and soon Nature’s Air-Conditioned City was garnering national attention. And it still does to this very day. Many folks across the country simply marvel at the concept of a small West Virginia city that rarely hits 90 degrees.

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As we wait and wonder when the mercury will hit 90, folks in other parts of the country are hoping for a reprieve from the heat.

The problem for residents in areas like Phoenix is that their bodies simply aren’t cooling down as they should at night. Health officials say those who aren’t in an air-conditioned place in the day never have a chance to really recover — especially when the nights are just as hot.

Scientists say the jet stream is acting a little unusual this year. Some — including our president and a number of lawmakers in Washington — are blaming this on climate change. And of course they blame coal on climate change, or the science formerly known as global warming.

The jet stream normally moves from west to east, but when it slows and swings dramatically to the north or south, extreme weather can happen. Or at least that is how an Associated Press story described the situation last week.

There is still plenty of time left this summer for Bluefield to hit 90 degrees. I suspect the mercury will hit the magic milestone later this month, and probably again in August as well. And of course we can hit 90 in September as well. It’s happened a couple of times before.

 But at the moment, the heat is simply on in Phoenix, California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. And “Nature’s Air-Conditioned City” is living up to its namesake.

 I guess we can blame it on the jet stream.

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s assistant managing editor. Contact him at cowens@bdtonline.com. Follow him @BDTOwens.

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