MAD DOG: Hot Enough For Ya?

The dog days of summer are upon us. That's the time of the year when the thermometer hits triple digits, there's so much humidity in the air that you get in the shower to dry off, and the power company sends daily thank-you notes because your air conditioning is making the electric meter spin faster than the Tilt-a-Whirl with a speed freak at the controls.

As is traditional this time of year, the big topic of conversation is the weather. More specifically, how hot it is. Newscasters interrupt your favorite commercials to comment on it. Radio announcers dedicate songs like "Heat Wave" to it. And the newspaper splashes it across the front page like it's never happened before. Don't they know that summer is defined as "The season between spring and autumn which causes otherwise sane people to forget that it gets hot every year"?

This forgetfulness may be caused by the heat, which does funny things to living creatures. As any farmer, 4-F'er, or milk maid can tell you, excessive heat causes cows to stop giving milk and hens to quit laying eggs. It also causes people to stop total strangers on the street and ask them probing questions like, "Hot enough for ya?" when they'd ordinarily be discoursing on something important, like why we don't get to see the bathroom camera on "Big Brother."

We've always been told it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Well, it turns out it's neither--it's the heat index. The heat index is the wind chill factor's evil twin. While the wind chill factor is easy to understand--temperature times wind speed divided by the number of layers of mittens needed to prevent frostbite--the heat index is a bit more esoteric. Technically it's "a measure of the contributions that high humidity makes with abnormally high temperatures in reducing the body's ability to cool itself." Put in layman's terms it means "In case you don't feel miserable enough that it's 95 degrees with 60 percent humidity we want you to know that it actually feels like it's 114 degrees." The minute they break out this agony yardstick you can bet there's only one real description for the weather: Totally uncalled for.

The heat index is a relatively new invention, having been developed by a committee of meteorologists under the direction of the Marquis de Sade. Meteorologists are those people who stand in front of computer generated maps on the nightly news and look off to the side so they can talk about a low pressure system which is stalled over Kansas while they point to Maine. Meteorologists have the best job in the world. What other career is there where you can screw up 365 days a year and not only keep your job but get a raise, be given the opportunity to be wrong about the weather in an even larger metropolitan area, and all the while sleep well knowing you're higher on the evolutionary ladder than Carrot Top? Then again, who isn't?

To really confuse the issue, summer isn't always hot. In San Francisco it's cool and foggy, which is why all the tourists wear shorts, sandals, and a brand new overpriced sweatshirt that reads: "I left my heart and wallet in San Francisco." In South Africa and Australia you never hear anyone complain about the heat in the summer. That's because they get it in the winter.

To understand why this is, picture a globe. You'll notice that both of those countries are towards the bottom of the globe. Since hot air rises--as demonstrated by Dr. Laura's ascendancy--all the heat migrates upward, making it hot in the northern hemisphere. Since the earth moves on its axis, during the winter we're facing downward, meaning the hot air gets trapped in the southern hemisphere and they get to walk around asking, "How enough for ya?".

The heat index follows the latest trend in meteorology, which is to make up cute terms for scientific phenomena that already have perfectly serviceable names, like "thunderboomer." Where on the one hand they trivialize, on the other they've taken to sensationalizing. A few years ago the Storm of the Century marched up the east coast. The next year a 100-year storm hit the same area. Then came a 100-year flood. Talk about bad luck.

This 100-year stuff is a complete misnomer. It turns out that a 100-year weather event can actually occur more than once in a century. This is possible for a simple reason: meteorologists like to confuse us. Apparently a 100-year weather event is defined as one so large that the chance of its occurring in any given year is 1 percent. While this doesn't sound like very good odds it's not bad when you consider that the chances of winning the Powerball lottery is one in 80 million. Now do you see why we have more 100-year storms than winning lottery tickets?

Let's recap what we've learned about the weather today. First, the heat index is our friend. Next, the weather forecast in the newspaper is less reliable than the horoscope. And finally, when it's hot enough to fry eggs on the sidewalk the bacon will still be limp and greasy. If you're real good, next week we'll explore the effect of heat expansion on Angelina Jolie's lips. Is that hot enough for ya?

More Mad Dog can be found online at His novel, "Skywriting at Night" is available from Xlibris Corporation.

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