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Summer in Chicago: Too Hot to Swim

August 3, 1988

CHICAGO (AP) _ Perhaps the summer’s a bust when it gets too hot to swim in Lake Michigan. Welcome to the Heat Wave of ’88, Chicago style.

″We call it burnout. The people just get too much sun and they want to run and hide,″ says Harry Gillespie, supervisor of the city’s 31 beaches. ″The sand is too hot and the lake’s only 75 degrees. The intense heat is driving people off the beach.″

Chicago has been fiery, sultry, stifling, stuffy, sweltering, torrid, tropical - and all of the above. It’s hard to find a ″hot″ adjective that isn’t getting overworked.

Through Wednesday, there were 35 days of temperatures at 90 or above, and seven days at the century mark or higher, leaving in the dust the record of four 100-degree days in a single summer, set in 1934, 1947 and 1953.

Residents wonder if the devil’s lair is cooler than the Windy City.

″I’m exhausted,″ traffic Officer Gloria Boozer said as she trudged to a downtown corner for another day of whistle-blowing and arm-waving amid overheated drivers. ″When it comes to the weather report, I try not to hear it.″

No problem there. The weather hasn’t changed much all summer, leaving TV forecasters little to offer but bad news.

″I’ve been lonely, hiding from everybody,″ says Jerry Taft, meteorologist at WLS, an ABC-owned television station.

″You can only report what’s going to happen but people blame you, tongue- in-cheek. You do get a little grief.

″If you’re an ego-freak weatherman, then it’s a good time. They tend to get you on earlier in the show,″ Taft said. ″I’m not into that.″

With temperatures up and air conditioners churning at all hours, records for electricity demand are toppling. Commonwealth Edison Co., supplier of power to Chicago and most of northern Illinois, used 17.01 million kilowatts Tuesday and was left with a 1 percent reserve margin.

″If you look at Edison’s top 16 peak demands, all but three were set this summer,″ said spokeswoman Debbie Vestal. ″The peaks we’ve hit are peaks we didn’t think we’d have for five more years.″

Edison has six nuclear plants with two reactors at each site. Eleven of the 12 reactors have been producing power full time with one down for maintenance, Ms. Vestal said.

Ask Chicagoans about the heat and they’re either miserable or resigned. At the Chicago Christian Industrial League, a relief agency on the West Side that helps some of the city’s estimated 25,000 homeless, Richard Roberts tries to soothe parched throats.

″It’s been horrific. With the stress of no home and high heat, you have people here who might end up as statistics at the Cook County morgue,″ Roberts said.

″We’ve set up ice-water tanks on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, some people have been stealing our tanks,″ he said. ″I don’t call the police. If it’s stolen, then somebody needs it.

″You know,″ Roberts said, ″you see the news accounts of the people on the North Shore playing tennis and sweating profusely and how it’s affecting their backhand volley. Oh, it hits my wrenching heart.″

Carlos Bedraza, 35, a downtown bicycle messenger who makes 35 stops on his daily rounds, says he copes by drinking a lot of water and trying to ″lay off the fatty stuff.″

″I just had chicken salad,″ Bedraza said. ″When I’m riding I get hot when I have to stop. The air keeps me cool. I can deal with this.″

Then there’s Jack Cannan, 23, of nearby Calumet City, who was spotted earlier this week by a downtown sculpture, sweaty, shirtless - and loving every minute of a sizzling summer.

″My philosophy is ’white ain’t right,‴ he said, referring to his bronzed body. ″Be good to the sun and it will be good to you.″