Not The Heat, It's...Okay, It's The Heat
by Mad Dog
heat index, for those of you who have been too busy putting ice cubes
down your pants because when it’s this hot no one will question your
motive, is the wind chill factor’s evil twin.
||The dog days of summer
are upon us. That’s the time of 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 as if 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
This forgetfulness could 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
what the character arcs, major motivations, and dominant theme are of High
School Musical 2.
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
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,
for those of you who have been too busy putting ice cubes down your
pants because when it’s this hot no one will question your motive,
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.” 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 highly trained scientists who, if they’re
really talented, get to stand in front of a computer generated map 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 pointing to Maine.
Meteorologists have the best job in the world. What other career do
you know of 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
Larry The Cable Guy? Right, like who isn’t.
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 mess with our heads.
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 July and
August. That’s because they get their heat in December and January.
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?” while the blood
rushes to our heads.
The heat index is part of the trend in meteorology to make up cute
terms for scientific phenomena that already have perfectly serviceable
names, like “thunderboomer” instead of thunderstorm. Or thunder.
Or angry god bowling. While on the one hand meteorologists trivialize
the weather, on the other they’ve taken to sensationalizing it. A
few years back 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 a streak of bad luck. But it turns out that this
100-year stuff is a complete misnomer because a 100-year weather event
can actually occur more than once in a century. This is possible for a
simple reason: meteorologists like to mess with our heads. Actually 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 Mega Millions Lottery is one in 176 million.
Now do you see why we end up with more 100-year storms than winning
Let’s recap what we’ve learned about the weather today. First, the
heat index is our friend. Second, 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?
©2000, 2007 Mad Dog
Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read
them in front of the air conditioner.