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No, this isn’t the Santa Cruz River. But it might make you feel cooler as it hits 100 degrees. Here, the ice is starting to break in the parking lot in front of the Food City on East Ft Lowell Road and North First Avenue the result of a hard freeze that has damaged many plants, some water lines and a created a small frozen lake in this instance throughout the area on Thursday, February 3, 2011, in Tucson, Ariz. Photo by A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star A.E. Araiza/Arizona Daily Star

We hear all the time about the first 100-degree day each year. The earliest it has happened is April 19; that was in 1989. The latest date we reached 100 degrees for the first time was June 22 in 1905. The average first 100-degree day is May 26.

But what about the last 100-degree day each year? That day isn’t heralded with trumpets because, of course, we don’t know for sure that it won’t happen again each year. But it must be a date many of us would look forward to if we knew when it was coming.

The Morgue Lady went in search of articles about the first 100-degree day each year and couldn’t find them in the Arizona Daily Star in the earliest years of record keeping. She surmises that before air conditioning, perhaps Tucsonans didn’t want to know just how hot it was when there was no escape for those who had to remain in Tucson to attend their jobs.

It’s all relative: When this electronic sign at the Viscount hotel stated that it was 102 degrees at 1 p.m. June 30, 1999, signs around town varied from 111 to 88 degrees and the national weather service reported the temperature as 101 degrees. The perceptions of Tucsonans and visitors probably varied as widely. James S. Wood/Arizona Daily Star file photo

Back in the late 1950s, I was driving a canvas-topped, open-sided Jeep from Southern California to Tucson. It was about half-past June, and I was taking the southern route through Yuma. The temperature was somewhere over 105, and I made a lot of stops for cold drinks.

“Seems to be warming up,” I remarked to the station attendant when he came out to pour my gas. (Remember, this was in the 1950s, when that sort of thing happened.) “Yep,” he replied, “ if it keeps up like this, the snow will start melting on the north sides of the saguaros any day now.” All of a sudden I knew I was home!

I’ve not heard that particular way of expressing the summer heat before or since (except when I’ve used it myself!), but the humorous exaggeration it employs is certainly traditional in our region. In Tucson for years, the coded description of the first day of over 100 degrees was “when the ice breaks on the Santa Cruz.” (Not “melts”, mind you, but “breaks.”) One or another of the dailies would usually rise to the occasion with a fine, detailed story.

But my favorite story involves the late Julian Hayden, dear friend and quintessential Desert Rat. During World War II, Julian was working in Yuma. One summer day he was at the air base where bomber pilots were being trained. It was graduation day, and he chanced to walk by a young man wearing a new uniform.