July 21, 2022

Last Monday Melissa sent an invitation to our sibs to join us this weekend for a hot vacation getaway.  This included swimming in ice cubes in the puppy pool, a large misting fan, and cases of antiperspirant and baby powder.  Surprisingly, no one took her up on the invitation.  Our area is currently on an eleven day streak of 100F+ (37.8C+) temperatures and 17 of the last 18 days have topped the 100F (37.8C) mark with the hottest day last Tuesday at 109F (42.8C).  After a cool down (99F/37.2C) tomorrow we are forecast for another 5 days in the 100’s.  This is not a localized phenomenon or even confined to the US, as the European countries are also getting hammered by high temperatures.  We have seen excessive heat warnings every day of July from noon to 8 pm and the nightly news is almost entirely focused on the temperatures.  The weather person has repeatedly said, “today is the hottest day on record.”

When I looked online, I found that scientists mark modern global record-keeping for temperatures at1880.  According to NASA, that is because earlier available climate data does not cover enough of the planet to get an accurate reading.  While the record of land-surface temperature predates 1880, the level of certainty before that year drops considerably.  People have been measuring the temperature since the time of Galileo (born February 15, 1564, Pisa, Italy – died January 8, 1642, Arcetri, Italy), and the modern mercury thermometer with a standardized scale was invented by Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit in 1714.  Before the mid-1800’s most formal weather stations were in Europe and the US but by 1880 they became expansive enough to provide a picture of global temperature.  It is not that weather data was not collected prior to 1880, but that most other older climate data has not been digitized.  We do not have an accessible record of how hot it was.

Millions of weather records sit in old weather offices and in ships’ logs around the world and researchers are continuously crowdsourcing efforts to dig up and digitize historic weather data.  Efforts are underway in Uzbekistan to digitize 18 million pages of hydrometeorological data from as far back as 1867, and similar efforts have begun in El Salvador, Malawi, and Tanzania.  The British East India Company not only traveled extensively between 1789 and 1834 but collected enormous amounts of weather data.  Philip Brohan, a climate scientist at the UK’s Meteorological (Met) Office, has worked to collate hundreds of thousands of those records and digitize them to be added to the pre-1880 global climate record.  As more historic data gets incorporated into the global record, the 1880 benchmark could be pushed back into the mid-19th century.  How hot the “hottest day” is means in the last 137 years.

Thoughts:  The official highest registered air temperature on Earth is 134.1F (56.7C), recorded on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek Ranch, in Death Valley in the United States.  The hottest day I experienced was in Egypt’s Eastern Sahara Desert.  We were camping at an excavation site and the director had gone into his tent during the afternoon.  He came out with a thermometer telling us it read 130F (54.5C).  As the thermometer came out of the tent’s shade, we saw it visibly climb to 135F (57.2C).  While this was not an official record, it was hot.  While I got used to the days being hot, the night temperature dropped to around 85F (25.5C).  The 50 degree shift meant I nearly froze every night.  While temperature is relative, and many humans have found ways to adapt to both extreme heat and cold, the human body has limits.  Normal internal temperature is 98.6F and above 104F (40 C) we can become hypothermic, leading to symptoms like rapid pulse, a change in mental status, a lack of sweating, faintness, and coma.  We can tolerate external heat of 140F (60C) for only about 10 minutes before suffering from hyperthermia.  Keep yourself and others (and animals) cool.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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