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This summer's crazy weather just can't stop, won't stop Americans from having fun

John Hunt catches a fish during his extensive fun-filled summer.
Courtesy: John Hunt
John Hunt catches a fish during his extensive fun-filled summer.

Americans have made one thing clear this summer: No matter how extreme the weather, they will not give up the pursuit of fun.

All summer people have been beset with unprecedented wildfire smoke, hail storms, the hottest July ever recorded and massive floods. But they're still going out to eat, see shows and travel.

"My family is kind of on like a rock band tour from the end of May until the middle of August and they want to get in as much as possible," said John Hunt.

Not that the extreme weather has left him or his family unscathed. His wife developed heat stroke and spent nearly an hour in the medical tent during a show at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington in July. Another time, winds reaching 60 miles per hour knocked their tent around while they were camping at Wyoming. And torrential rains led to flash floods while he was watching a beloved bluegrass band at the open-air Red Rocks Amphitheatre near his home.

Still, Hunt hasn't canceled any plans yet and doesn't intend to.

Hunt lives in a prime destination for summer tourism: Colorado. But since the end of May, he and his family have been zigzagging across the country — from California and Washington state on the Pacific coast to Idaho, Utah, Wyoming out west to Missouri — enjoying the outdoors.

Summer is when summer is

Every week, seemingly, push alerts have been lighting up Americans' phones with news of canceled flights while images of travelers crammed into airports waiting out rain storms fill social media.

Still, people keep taking off for summer trips, with the three biggest airlines all reporting they made substantial amounts of money in the last quarter, which included June.

At the start of summer, the U.S. Travel Association forecast that domestic leisure travel would grow again this year, reaching its pre-pandemic levels in 2024. So far, it's sticking to that forecast, said the association's president and CEO, Geoff Freeman.

"Travelers are resilient," said Freeman. "The summer is when the summer is. Kids are out of school when they're out of school. And I think they've got to make use of limited time."

Coming out of the pandemic, many people in the travel industry saw a shift in "the value that people place on travel of being together, of having different experiences," Freeman added.

The quest for fun is across the board. Live Nation, the major concert promoter, is also pulling in record profits. Recently, Beyonce had to delay a Washington D.C. performance by two hours for rain. Concertgoers crammed into the stadium's concourse in the heat, and at least one passed out. But the show went on.

Floods early in the summer battered most of New England, washing out roads. But the Boston Symphony Orchestra didn't notice any change in attendance at its Tanglewood performance site in the Berkshire Mountains. And while some people have put off buying tickets for lawn seats until they can check rain forecasts, plenty of others gear up and still spread their picnics out on the lawn, said the orchestra's spokesperson Jan Devereux.

The Appalachian Mountain Club, which operates in the northern and mid-Atlantic states that have been hit by heavy floods, saw an 8% increase in the number of nights people stayed in their huts from a year earlier.

Then there's the quintessential summer activity – catching a game. Major League Baseball recorded its best attendance in more than a decade in the last week of July, when there seemed to be no place safe in the U.S. from the heat or rain, or both.

More water and better planning, but staying indoors isn't always an option

The pandemic hit when Taylor Evans, who works in entertainment marketing in New York, was in her mid-twenties. Now she feels like she needs to "make up for lost time."

Taylor Evans at a Yankee game in New York with her dad.
/ Courtesy: Taylor Evans
Courtesy: Taylor Evans
Taylor Evans at a Yankee game in New York with her dad.

There's something else that's driving her desire to get out in the city that never sleeps: that the "world is in a weird place."

"There's a lot happening and I think people going out and having fun is a good way to sort of escape that," she said "Even with the weather you're like, 'The earth is on fire. This is horrifying, but I don't want to sit in my apartment and think about it too much.'"

The weather has made her more "strategic" in deciding what she does and how long she stays outdoors.

She plans subway routes to make sure she's on air-conditioned cars and platforms or she stays closer to home. Like many Americans, Evans carries water even on short walks now, and she takes advantage of the city's many indoor options, like catching the Jay-Z exhibit at the Brooklyn Art Museum.

Most Americans are using some sort of strategy – whether it's constantly consulting weather apps or switching to electrolyte drinks – even for the simplest summer fun.

Ryan Klein and his son enjoying the summer.
/ Courtesy: Ryan Klein
Courtesy: Ryan Klein
Ryan Klein and his son enjoying the summer.

For Ryan Klein, a dad of two very young children in a suburb of Chicago, that has meant cutting down time at the park or finding ways to keep the kids entertained inside after an abbreviated morning outdoors during the days of the worst wildfire smoke.

Sometimes, he plans things close by for shorter periods. For instance, he recently took his 3-year-old son to a birthday party at a spray park when the air quality wasn't that good. His kids need to burn off energy and they also get to enjoy things that they can't do in the winter, like running through the sprinklers, Klein said. But he said he's also found he personally can't give up the boost from summer sunshine and how it lifts his spirits after the region's notoriously bad winters.

"I just have a lot of fun just – it's gonna sound funny – just breathing air outside," he said . "There's the thing in Chicago: 100 days, that's it, between Memorial and Labor Days. That's what summer is measured at here."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lisa Lambert
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