Thursday, July 12, 2012

Just how hot is it, anyway?

I suppose there were probably a couple of places warmer than my house last week. Like the surface of the sun or the gates of hell, maybe.  I was all but certain I had found one of the hottest spots on the planet when we headed all the way up to the Fargo area the weekend before the Fourth to help son Colin and his family move to a new home. After spending their first few years in the area living in a modern townhouse in a treeless, edge-of-town housing development, they've moved to a single family home in a tree-lined neighborhood, not far from a riverside park and the university where my daughter-in-law teaches.
"They've moved to a house with character," noted my spouse.
Yeah, and without air conditioning, too.
Central air has never been a priority in an area where summer usually only means a few days of bad ice fishing. But whether it's a sign of global warming, a coming apocalypse or just plain bad luck, folks on the northern plains have been experiencing the same kind of mild winters, warm springs and hot, hot summers as the rest of us. It's been a while since I've been involved in the box-bustling, couch-coaxing process of moving. And really, Colin and crew had taken care of most of the big stuff, with just some cleaning chores and furniture arranging left for the two of us.
A good thing, too, because even moving a few boxes, vacuuming a couple of rooms, mowing the lawn and washing some windows had me sweating buckets in the unaccustomed northland heat. I was sorry to leave them, but a little relieved when it was time to retrace our steps in order to get home in time for the fabulous Fourth of July celebration in my hometown. It was a great day, but unless you were lucky enough to be accidently locked into an ice machine, you know just how hot it was. I thought about it while participating in the near-death experience of mowing the lawn on the afternoon of the third, and decided it would be worthwhile to prepare myself for the weather-related comments that were sure to come from the friends and family members that would gather on my porch the next day. That night, I scoured the internet for hot-weather facts designed to both amuse and educate my audience. I imagined the lightning-quick commentary I'd provide at the first mention of weather and the record-setting temperatures.
"Hot one, eh?"
It was just the opening I had been hoping for.
"Yeah, it's pretty toasty, all right," I'd say. "But nothing like the Lut desert in southeastern Iran."
My comprehensive internet search had armed me with the fact that a 2005 NASA study indicated soil temperatures that reached about 160 degrees in the region, making it the hottest spot on earth.
Likewise, I had learned that the aptly-named Flaming Mountains of Turfan in northwest China's Xinjiang province are a place where the temperature has been know to reach 122 degrees, and that the hot, dry area near Ahwaz, Iran gets less than an inch of rain per year and averages 116 degrees in the month of July. I discovered that Timbuktu borders the Sahara Desert and once had a recorded high of 130 degrees, along with spring temps of 108 and wintertime highs in the 90s. But, I planned to save my favorite for last--Death Valley, California, the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere at 280 feet below sea level and the site of the highest temperature ever measured in the U.S. back in 1913--134 degrees!
That's the stuff I was going to share with my guests on that sweltering Independence Day, and I'm sure they would have been impressed.
"That John sure knows his weather facts," they'd say.
And they'd be right.
But as I looked around at the crowd on my porch as they did their best to beat the sweltering heat, I realized I might just want to save my new-found treasure trove of knowledge for another, cooler time. Because if there was one thing they didn't need that day, it was any more hot air.

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