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Something I learned from a Cowboy



Some time ago I met a cowboy. Not a Hollywood cowboy. Not a guitar-strumming Nashville cowboy. This cowboy sat upon a horse so big, I had to lean out of the window of my ’67 Chevrolet and strain my neck to see him.

The cowboy and I were headed in opposite directions on a greyish, dusty, unpaved road. He was mounted upon the aforementioned animal. I was navigating my Chevy. Aside from our differing modes of transportation, there was one other factor distinguishing the cowboy from me. He knew where he was and where he was going. I didn’t.

In brief, I was in Montana looking for Holter Dam, which according to my wrinkled paper map, ought to be astride the Missouri River somewhere nearby. And, no. Cars did not have GPS navigators in those days.

So, there I was, looking up at a cowboy mounted upon the largest chestnut-brown horse I had ever seen. I quickly learned he was no ordinary cowhand. He owned a Montana wheat ranch half the size of the state of Arizona.

He dismounted and I exited my car and soon we were chatting face-to-face. In no time at all he gave me directions to Holter Dam. Easy for him. He lived there! How’s that for luck?

As we spoke, my car’s engine was still running.

“Have you got any tools in your car?” That wasn’t a question I had expected the cowboy to ask. After all, I was only seeking directions.

“A few,” I replied.

“You’ve got a problem with your engine.”

I felt really proud that I had a wrench or two and a screwdriver. Prouder still that I knew which was which!

The cowboy raised my Chevy’s hood. He listened ever so briefly.

Within a few seconds he was bending over my still-running engine. He used the wrench. Once. Twice. Then he was satisfied.

“You had an air leak back there.” He explained something about a gasket and a rocker cover.

I smiled as if I knew what he was talking about.

This cowboy was a pleasant fellow, dusty boots and all. We chatted. My jaw dropped. This was no ordinary cowboy. He was a Harvard Business School graduate. He needed that, he said, to manage his wheat ranch. He marketed to Russia, China, and beyond.

He was also an engineering graduate. I recall he said Michigan. He told me he needed that, too, “right here at Holter Dam.” But before Holter Dam, this cowboy had another use for that engineering degree. He applied those skills while working for General Motors. I’d guess that’s why from atop his horse he heard a potentially troublesome hissing sound beneath the hood of my Chevy.

Turns out this cowboy was the chief engineer for the dam’s hydro-electric generators. Also turns out he guided us to his home on the Holter Dam property. He gave my two kids a ride on the horse!

I met him again a year or so later. Rescue and recovery mission on the Missouri River. Part of my Air Force duties at Malmstrom Air Force Base just outside Great Falls. But that’s another story. Later maybe.

So, this cowboy was a lesson! Classic case of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” What social science calls stereotyping….

Yesterday, I met a guy at a bar ………

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Council’s wanton cries of ‘more’



What a difference $3.5 million of federal money could make in Town and County cooperative efforts. But if it comes as it seems it must, will it simply be an expansion of the Charade of Partnership shown by the Town over the past year?

Where were the attempts at cooperation and spirit of negotiation when it came time for the Town of Front Royal to pay for their police station funded by the EDA? Attempts at negotiating a fair-and-just interest rate on a now $8.8-million dollar project fell on deaf ears with lines drawn in the sand based upon an alleged emailed interest rate commitment from a “middle man”, despite sage advice from New Market Tax Credit Administrator Bryan Phipps, of People Inc.

However, the town gambled with the citizens money despite being told by Phipps that they should accept an alternative and guaranteed 2.65% interest rate from a separate lending institution. – It was advice echoed by then Town Manager Joe Waltz and Finance Director B. J. Wilson.

But council insisted, “NO, Jennifer promised us 1.5%.” Bear in mind reasonable people, professional administrators and community leaders should know to ask for formal Commitment Letters detailing the entirety of a loan package, not just emailed or verbal assurances – Lesson learned?

And now their stance has been “we will pay you nothing on FRPD interest, NOR the principal amount there was no conflicting information on”. This is now more evident than ever with the Town’s continuing obstinance by returning EDA submitted invoices for payment.

As the Board of Supervisors proceeds to distribute $3.5 million of federal assistance that it alone is responsible for assuring will be spent per federal guidelines, Warren County needs to seriously evaluate past actions, current leadership, and more importantly the integrity of town leaders, and dismiss the wanton Council cries of “more than crumbs” from the federally set, County economic relief table.

Warren County is under no obligation to disperse federal funds to a smaller constituent governments within its borders and is fully within their rights to bypass Council and disperse funds to all citizens and town supported operations as THEY see fit in the manner that satisfies THEIR requirements.

Treat people and recovering institutions like “crumbs” and expect nothing less in return.

Gregory Harold
Warren County, Virginia

(Editor’s note: Mr. Harold is an MBA, Class A Contractor, and OSHA 30 Operations Project Manager for Wisconsin-based ERDMAN. And while noting he writes as a private citizen; it should be acknowledged that he is a 2019 appointee to the re-tooled Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Board of Directors and chairman of the EDA Asset Committee.)

(Editor’s note 2: We checked Mr. Harold’s assertion about the County not being required to disperse CARES Act funds to smaller jurisdictions within its boundaries and found him to apparently be correct. From a Treasury Department website May 28 update on “Frequently Asked Questions” about the CARES Act:

Q – Is a Fund payment recipient required to transfer funds to a smaller, constituent unit of government within its borders?
A – No. For example, a county recipient is not required to transfer funds to smaller cities within the county’s borders.”

We note that while Front Royal is not a city, it is “a smaller constituent unit of government” within county borders.)

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Marxists vs. Fascists



historically speaking

Today, it seems that the worst possible label you can give a political leader is “fascist.” Traditionally this is a term reserved for far right leaders and has been applied by many towards President Trump. Yet recently I have seen it used against liberal governors of states who are keeping quarantines in place. Calling a liberal a fascist seems odd, but, historically speaking, it may be understandable.

In the past, conservatives sometimes referred to liberals as communists and Marxists as an attack. The problem with this today is that some on the left are owning the title of Marxist or, at least, socialist. One of my colleagues refers to himself as a Marxist, as do several students. I find this strange and perplexing. First, do people really know the difference between a fascist and a Marxist? And why is it acceptable to call yourself a Marxist but totally incomprehensible to call yourself a fascist. (For this piece, I need to note that I have a word count so I do have to generalize. I acknowledge that these topics should be explored in much more depth and understanding.)

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not arguing that we should start calling ourselves fascists. I have nothing but contempt for the concept. But should we not have similar contempt for Marxism? Since WWII, fascism has always carried a negative connotation. In fact, the term is not really used except as a slight towards opponents. The public has understandably denounced any fascist connections. The Nazis did cause WWII and were responsible for the deaths of more than 17 million during the Holocaust. What is puzzling is that if Nazis are to fascists what communists are to Marxists, then why is it acceptable to associate with communists when they are responsible for the deaths of between 21-70 million people worldwide between all the various communists’ regimes over time.

It is true that Marxist and communists are not the exact same thing. Marxism is the political ideology of Karl Marx’s ideas, whereas communism is the political system based on Marx’s ideas. However, the same holds true with fascism and Nazism. Fascism is a political ideology developed in Italy during WWI. The Great War brought about destruction that the world had never imagined, leading Italian Fascists to believe liberal democracy had failed, not unlike the communists. Both ideologies have socialist tendencies, believing in state control, but whereas communism is based on class, fascists used nationalism. Hence, communism is seen as left while fascists are seen as right. Obviously, this is a simplified explanation, but the premise is true.  States like the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea used Marxist philosophy to create dictatorships the way the Germans did with fascism.

For years I have had an issue with the generally accepted left-right political spectrum. As it currently looks, Republicans are on the right with fascists on the far right. Conversely, Democrats are on the left with communists on the far left. I prefer the model where ideology or parties are on a circle instead of a line. In this model, the bottom of the circle can be democracy with Republicans a bit to the right along the circle and Democrats a bit to the left. At the top of the circle is totalitarianism with fascism a bit to the right side and Marxism a bit the other way. This model more accurately shows more similarities than differences in Marxism and fascism. They are both failed philosophies that caused death and pain for millions, yet one is more accepted than the other. Maybe it’s time to condemn all forms of extremism. The circle chart also shows that Republicans and Democrats are not so polarized. If the two parties can purge any who adhere to either Marxism or fascism and focus instead on democracy, maybe we can work a few things out. However, for that to happen, we need to condemn Marxists as much as we do fascists.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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‘At will’ versus ‘due process’ Town employment: Time for a change of perspective for all?



Town Hall was recently decorated for Memorial Day – one reader asks if it isn’t time for a ‘re-decoration’ and change of perspective inside the seat of town government. Royal Examiner File Photo

Virginia law allows “at will” employment, meaning a person can be fired with or without cause. Front Royal government staff are “at will” employees but the Interim Town Manager has a contract which requires due process to terminate.

If Town Council believes one of its employees deserves such respect and job stability, would Council consider offering the same across the board – due-process contracts to all Town staff?

Such a move could prevent another occurrence of sudden firings of key personnel that has left at least one department, Tourism, in turmoil and in a scramble for re-structuring. It could also create confidence that it is the Town’s elected officials who are in charge of their interim town manager appointee, rather than the reverse.

Would they care by such a gesture, though perhaps too late, to try and create some sense of integrity for themselves and the image of the town?

The employees fired were part of tourism, a source of revenue; and, planning which helps find the best place for new businesses to locate. Firing the town engineer who had at least fifteen projects to supervise will now cost more and who does these jobs now?

A public accusation is also tied to the fired Director of Tourism and Community Development – “She never once reported to Town Council when we asked her to explain what she did.”

But is that an accurate assessment?

Look at past agendas until reaching one circa April 2016. She performed publicly when scheduled with the Council, ran morning Business Forums several times, and many times attended Town Council meetings along with the also suddenly departed Director of Planning.

I witnessed their attendance and input at Town Council meetings. And, activity reports were required every two weeks from Department heads until the practice stopped in November 2019. She also made it clear in public (December 12, 2016 report to Council) that she was available anytime Council members wanted to discuss any ideas, suggestions, and issues with her.

Another approach to our integrity and image problems with Council is about five months away when we could elect three new people to Council. Let’s elect persons who see the questions, fact find, consider consequences of decisions, act in a timely manner, listen, and who will be absolutely transparent to all town citizens.

What a welcome change that would be from the current majority of seemingly partisan puppets of a local political machine.

Linda Allen
Front Royal, Virginia

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Mail-In Voting



historically speaking

With the shutdown of everything non-essential and social distancing becoming the new normal, one area of concern is voting. At the very heart of our democracy is the ability to vote. However, if we eliminate gatherings, as we have been instructed to do, voting is problematic. As of now the presidential vote hopefully will go forward as planned, but we have seen a disruption in primary voting. One of the options being floated is a mail-in vote. For some, changing how we vote goes against what it means to be American; however, historically speaking, we only started our current system of voting in the 1880s.

First and foremost, it is important to understand what the Constitution says about voting. Article I. Section 4 reads, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” In other words, voting practices are controlled by the states and different states could have various practices. Because of this, states had a great deal of power over who could vote until the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed.

In early America, ballots were not provided; you were expected to bring your own. You could make your own ballot, but a popular way to vote was to take an already filled out ballot provided by your political party, not unlike the sample ballots found at some polling stations today. Usually these ballots were color coded so that foreign speakers or illiterate voters could make sure they voted for the correct party. However, color-coded ballots also made it easy for political bosses to make sure you voted for the correct person.

Unlike now, voters were not expected to cast an anonymous vote. The idea was that you should not be ashamed of who you voted for. The reason the pollsters were wrong in 2016, and I expect the same in 2020, was that many Republicans wanted to vote party but did not want to admit they voted for Trump. Early Americans were expected to vote for the common good, not for self-interest.

The switch to the secret ballot began occurring in the 1880s to battle corruption. By the Gilded Age, corruption had emerged as one of the leading political issues. The idea became so prominent that it threatened the Republican presidential dynasty, as the party divided internally between the Stalwarts, who wanted to keep the status quo, and the Mugwumps, who wanted real reform.

What was happening was that floods of immigration changed local politics in many ways. As immigrants got off the boat, they were met by party members from their homeland who provided them with a place to live already prepared and a job for them to start. This is why so many Irish became policemen and firemen; the Irish were in control of those occupations. Of course they were expected to vote for whoever the political machine ran. It was easy to vote for the right person, especially when the organization provided a filled-out ballot.

As bad as this looks today, political machines were not all bad. Early American cities had a plethora of issues – water, sanitation, paved roads, welfare, and eventually electricity. These issues were too big for most city governments to handle. It was the political machines that stepped in to handle the problems, of course with kickbacks for themselves. In some ways, the political machines were the only voice the poor had.  But in other ways the machines were taking advantage of the poor.

The power of the political machines led to middle- and upper-class Americans fighting so hard for political change. They fought for the passage of the Pendleton Act. This created a civil service exam where a test was given and, instead of political handouts, the most qualified were given jobs. With Pendleton passed they next fought for a secret ballot. If machines could not promise jobs, and votes could not be bought, it was harder for the machines to control the poor population. Pendleton was passed in 1883 and in 1888 Massachusetts became the first state to use the secret ballot and over the next decade the rest began to follow.

The mail-in ballot is not the same thing as the open ballot of the 19th Century, but it does pose similar circumstances. It may be the great equalizer that allows for more democratic participation than ever before, especially if we are social distancing. However, it could also result in less control for non-English speakers, under-educated persons, or under-employed voters. Not that voter tampering would be openly used, but there is potential for representatives of a company, union, community, or immigration group to pass out completed ballots and offer to mail them in for voters after voters fill in their personal information. We have seen something similar with McCrae Dowless in North Carolina collecting absentee ballots in 2018.  I am not saying this will happen or that we should not use a mail-in ballot. Historically speaking, I am just showing what happened in the past.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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Social Media vs. Integrity and Leadership



March 13th, 2020 is notorious for two major events – one national and one local.  On this date, President Trump declared a national emergency due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and infused state governments with $50 billion dollars in federal aid.  Locally, the Town of Front Royal was quietly servicing their amended lawsuit against the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority upping their ante to $20,226,153 plus attorney fees and other costs.

While March 13th is an important milestone in this country and community, there are two far more important time spans to remember as you read through and more fully understand the “incompetence” that past EDA Board members exhibited, inclusive of former EDA Board Member and present Vice Mayor of Front Royal, Bill Sealock.

March 1, 2002, through December 9th, 2016 (EDA Board of Directors) and November 5th through present-day (Front Royal Town Council) shall serve as a reminder for a multitude of unremarkable and remarkable events that spans the illustrious career of Bill Sealock.  This period of time equates to nearly 19 years of public service.  These dates are critically important to the community, as Mr. Sealock’s unremarkable leadership tenure spanned the period in which much of the EDA fraud occurred; and where he continued to demonstrate a lack of true leadership on the Front Royal Town Council.  Sealock was in a prime position to have leveraged his past EDA knowledge and relations to broker a better working relationship between the Town of Front Royal and the EDA; possibly staving off the $20-million-plus civil suit against his previous board.

This was certainly not too much to ask, given Sealock’s 2016 candidate platform of “refusing to pick fights with the Board of Supervisors over silliness.” I will give Sealock credit for not picking any fights, as stony silence publicly overcame him for most, if not all the troubles between the EDA and the Town.

What was far from silly was Mayor Tewalt justifiably fighting and advocating for a mutual resolution on Town and EDA projects; while Sealock demonstrated no public support, and did not publicly build a coalition to challenge the current Council status quo that had their aim set on an entity that he helped lead and manage for 14 years.

What is remarkable in this time period is the Council’s willingness to chew up and spit out one of their own. Albeit, not through their personal words, but through their proxy attorneys.  The good ‘ole boy network may not be as strong as I once thought, as the sting of the outside-contracted Town attorneys’ words characterizing the Sealock manned EDA board’s leadership and management prowess includes such shameful vernacular as “incompetence”, “failed”, “unlawfully”, “grossly negligent” and “could have been prevented”.  These words and phrases are not my own, but direct quotes and characterizations that are peppered throughout the 83-page amended complaint by town attorney & famed automobile accident attorneys Damiani & Damiani.

Another unremarkable event is Mr. Sealock’s decision to not seeking another term on Council and chalking up the reasoning due to social media influence.  There was no mention or demonstration in acceptance of personal or professional accountability, the exercise of integrity, or simple sorrow, knowing that his inaction on both Town Council and the EDA will most likely cost the community untold millions of lost money through fraud, mismanagement (I will get to the EDA’s Sealock promoted Workforce Housing Project at a later time), attorney fees, and maintaining the status quo.  Leadership involves tough decisions, accountability, integrity, taking a stand for what is right, and reconciling the wrongs.   Demonstrating and practicing leadership is clearly not a strong suit for Sealock—that ship set sail years ago.  Fortunately, the community will not be forced to decide via future elections if Vice Mayor Sealock continues to deserve a seat at the dais knowing that his actions or inaction fully contributed to the chaos, dysfunction, and near-total loss of faith in community leadership posts.

The civil suit which The Town of Front Royal believes to be factually accurate paints a blistering account of Vice Mayor Sealock’s contribution to this community.  Vice Mayor Sealock was given 14 years, 9 months, and 8 days to help lead the EDA.  Instead, he let the organization lead him down a path that will forever scar this community.  Vice Mayor Sealock was given 4 years to jointly lead on the council, from the unique perspective of his nearly 15-year front-row seat at the EDA board table.  When the time came to reconcile his past decisions as an EDA board member, instead of being at the forefront and championing alternative resolutions, or simply resigning; he sat in stony silence while the Town of Front Royal began its campaign of fleecing the entire community with eyes wide shut to its own complicity and poor judgment as the EDA situation developed.

Sealock’s legacy will be forever cemented in the Town of Front Royal vs. FRWCEDA, not through social media fodder and a nearly 20-year career of unremarkable leadership.

Gregory A. Harold
Front Royal, VA  22630

(Writer’s Note: This is not a formal statement or position of the FRWCEDA.  This is one citizen’s position based upon the facts that the Town of Front Royal believes to be accurate as detailed in their civil suit against the FRWCEDA.)

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Miracle Cures



historically speaking

As I was driving home from my office this week and listening to talk radio, the host kept talking about how if everyone took 50 milligrams of zinc each day we could wipe out COVID-19. It seems like over the last few weeks I have read or seen many so-called cures for our current crisis. President Donald Trump started a race to buy up hydroxychloroquine when he claimed it could help with the virus. Most recently, he has suggested using ultraviolet light or disinfectants. I am not commenting on these medications’ effectiveness against the coronavirus. As my kids like to remind me, I am not that kind of doctor. I am only saying that historically speaking radical cures are not new.

Whenever America has faced crises, there have always been some claims of miracle cures. Sometimes, these are quacks looking for a buck. Other times, even when the experts claimed the cures were crazy, they later proved to work.

Fear is expected during difficult time and, with social media, conspiracies can spread faster than ever before. This past week I have heard a couple different celebrities with millions of followers claim that COVID-19 was started and is being spread by 5G. They even have “scientific” evidence to prove their theories that radiation is at fault. There are even claims that Bill Gates is behind the pandemic to depopulate the world. Not to be forgotten, others have linked the virus to global warming. True or not, controversial causes and cures are a part of history.

In the later 19th Century, one such miracle cure was snake oil. As the Chinese started immigrating to America they brought the oils from the Chinese water snakes with them. The oil from this snake did prove to have healing ability, especially with aching joints and inflammation. With the success of the snake oil, less scrupulous people began to pedal their own miracle cure snake oils. The difference was most of these potions did not contain a single trace of actual snake oil. The scams became so common that the term snake oil has come to mean a hoax cure.

In the midst of the Spanish Flu there was an advertisement in the Daily Ardmoreite in Oklahoma claiming that Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic of Quinine and Iron has doubtlessly saved thousands from the ravages of the grip and influenza. An Oklahoma newspaper in Granite had a story about how one company from Camp Funston was spared from the flu because the company physician made them gargle salt water twice daily. Not to be forgotten, malaria could be cured, according to an ad in the Hollis Post-Herald, by taking Oxidine. The ad even claimed backing by the U.S. government. Interesting enough, the Hitchcock Clarion had an article which actually had good advice on how to avoid the flu. They prescribed social distancing, covering your mouth when coughing, and avoiding large gatherings. However, they also claimed you should sleep with your windows open at night. The point is that out of desperation or greed, miracle cures will be widespread.

At the same time, some controversial cures can turn out correct. In colonial America one of the greatest fears was smallpox. It was a devastating disease that could wipe out thousands and left its survivors scarred for life. The year 1721 was a particularly difficult year for Boston. In September of that year when smallpox first began, there were 26 deaths, and by October there were more than 400. The prominent preacher, Cotton Mather, had read about a treatment in Turkey where a smallpox scab was placed under a healthy person’s skin to inoculate them against the disease.

Being new, radical and Islamic, when Mather presented his findings to the medical community, he was scorned. He did find one willing doctor to perform the procedure, only to bring down the wrath of the medical and religious community to the point of a failed assassination attempt. It was not until famous doctors in Europe stated touting its effectiveness of inoculations did Mather gain some relief. What was once seen as Islamic voodoo, is now saving lives around the world.

In another time and place, the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1905 in Louisiana brought an equal amount of fear. Every couple years brought a major outbreak of the disease. With the discovery of germ theory, scientists spent years trying to find the cause of the fever in order to create a cure, but to no success. In 1898 America fought the Spanish for control of Cuba and with our “colonization” of the island came the even greater need to find a cure.

Enter Dr. Carlos Finlay. Finlay was a Cuban doctor who discovered yellow fever was being transmitted by mosquitoes. He even identified the exact type. After the US set up camp on the island, Finlay shared his information with Walter Reed who confirmed this theory of mosquito transmission. Finlay and Reed were able to reduce the mosquito population in Cuba and saw yellow fever numbers drop.

However, what should have been a godsend was not fully embraced by the South.In the South, their own medical personal remained unconvinced that the fever was spread by germs. They refused to accept an annoying bug could be the culprit.

New Orleans, one of the hardest hit each summer, decided to follow the recommendation and try to kill the mosquito population in the city. It was recommended to put a small bit of oil, like vegetable oil, into the water cisterns to kill the bugs before they developed. In the neighborhoods were this was done the people complained about the taste of their water and so they stopped. They did not believe the fix and so saw no reason to pollute their water. To force the treatment, the health board tried to pass city laws requiring it, but that efforts failed.

Between 1900 and 1905 there were no major outbreaks in New Orleans, convincing the locals that their campaign of clean homes had helped kill the germs. They were partially right. The cleaning up of homes and neighborhoods took away breading grounds for mosquitoes. It was really not until the 1905 epidemic that the city was finally able to convince the population of the importance of mosquitoes. They asked people to oil their cisterns, removed anywhere with standing water, and sleep under netting. Finally following these steps, the 1905 epidemic was the last in New Orleans. What once seemed as a radical idea proved to be what was needed.

The jury is still out for some with hydroxychloroquine, zinc, or UV light. They may prove in the end to be modern-day snake oil, or possibly the things that save countless lives.

Dr. James Finck is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and Chair of the Oklahoma Civil War Symposium. Follow Historically Speaking at or Facebook at @jamesWfinck.

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King Cartoons

Front Royal
Partly Cloudy
5:47am8:36pm EDT
Feels like: 88°F
Wind: 6mph WSW
Humidity: 68%
Pressure: 29.88"Hg
UV index: 8