What are the ‘Dog Days’ of Summer?

Education, Featured Article, Health, Home & Family, Outdoors
on July 24, 2012

Politics is not the only thing heating up this election year. The first six months of 2012 were the warmest first half of any year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And the heat may just be beginning as we settle into the period traditionally known as the “dog days of summer.”

In the United States, the “dog days”’ are considered to persist for four to six weeks between mid-July and early September; in Western Europe they last from about the July 3 to Aug. 11, according to Bobby Boyd, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service office in Old Hickory, Tenn.

“Dog days of summer generally refer to the period of greatest heat in summer,” Boyd says.

The season gets its name from the rising of the dog star, Sirius, in conjunction with the sun, reports Space.com, the world’s No. 1 source for space news. Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians figured that the sun’s heat coupled with the warmth from the brightest star in the night sky created extremely hot and sultry summer days.

Degrees of danger
Heat is the No. 1 cause of weather-related deaths in the United States. On average, excessive heat claims more lives each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined, according the National Weather Service.

Since late June, over 66 people have died in the U.S. from exposure to the excessive heat, NBC Nightly News reports, most recently taking lives in Wisconsin and Chicago.

Extreme heat can cause the body’s normal cooling system, sweating, to become “overloaded,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. This sudden inability of the body to cool itself causes the internal temperature to rise rapidly, sometimes to upwards of 106 degrees. Infants, young children, the elderly, overweight and those who are sick or on certain medicines are most prone to the effects of extreme heat.

Romans believed the excessive heat caused laziness and made dogs go wild. More recent cultures claim the hot weather frays tempers more easily. National Geographic cites the July 1967 riots in Detroit and Chicago as incidences of heat-induced hotheadedness. Boyd is less-than certain, saying, “after 95 degrees even the criminals are ready to cool off.”

Let cooler heads prevail. If possible, stay indoors, keep cool, hydrated and out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day.

Scorching season
Of the 50 states, 40 set their high temperature records during the “dog days,” according to a NOAA report. Besides the infamous heat, Boyd says the “dog days” are associated with the greatest frequency of thunderstorms. The greater number of thunderstorms is due to the warmer temperatures and large amounts of moisture ascending into the atmosphere, especially in humid regions like the Southeast.