Friday, July 29, 2011

How Hot Is It?

It's been nearly 20 years since Johnny Carson left The Tonight Show, but, if you can remember when he was the show's host, you can probably remember many of his ongoing routines.

I'm thinking of one in particular that was usually likely to surface during Carson's monologue, but it could happen at any time. It frequently popped up when something really extreme had been happening — for example, a lot more (or a lot less, for that matter) rain than usual.

He would say something like, "It was so wet (or dry) today that ..." and, before he could finish the joke, the audience would roar as one, "How wet (or dry) was it?"

As I say, it could be anything extreme — or anything, at least, that was perceived to be extreme. It could be "Dan Quayle is so dumb" or "Al Gore is so wooden."

Weather was always a good source, but it could be anything. Carson and his writers could be very creative at times.

(All together now — How creative were they?)

Lately, as the nation has been enduring the kind of heat wave that usually seems to be reserved only for Texas, I've been missing Carson.

Well, actually, as far as I am concerned, late night TV has never been the same since he left — so missing Carson is not a new thing for me — but, when there's something in progress like this heat wave, I really miss him.

These times cry out for an opportunity for heat–weary people to shout in unison, "How hot is it?"

Jacy Marmaduke of the Dallas Morning News has been keeping area residents advised as local temperatures have cracked triple digits daily for four straight weeks now.

Recently, this summer's heat wave claimed the second slot on the historical list. It overtook the summer of 1998 a few days ago.

I was living in Dallas in the summer of 1998, and that was, indeed, a brutal summer. I was working for a trade magazine and I had to cover a trade show in Chicago that July. While I was there, I encountered quite a few people who had come from places to the north — and some were complaining of the heat.

Personally, I didn't find the heat in Chicago nearly as severe as the weather I had just left. The difference was noticeable upon my return.

I don't think that would be true this summer. Nearly the entire country has been sweltering. It's been easing lately in places where it usually doesn't get that hot, but much of the country remains in the heat wave's grip.

Depending upon the cloud cover we have, our streak of triple–digit days may come to an end around here tomorrow — but, even if it does, the immediate forecast suggests that a brand–new streak is likely to begin on Sunday, and that one seems certain to continue for awhile.

Besides, as a meteorologist told Marmaduke, there isn't much difference between 99° and 100°. The difference is almost entirely psychological.

If the streak does not end tomorrow, the summer of 2011 may well go down as the hottest on record — at least in terms of consecutive 100° days.

To accomplish that, it will have to exceed the triple–digit streak of 1980 — and it just might do that, but it will never match the intensity of the summer of 1980.

I remember that one, too.

I wasn't living in Dallas in those days, but my grandmother was, and I remember coming here with my mother to visit my grandmother, who was starting to experience symptoms of dementia.

Daytime highs in 1980 seemed to get past 100° before noon and just kept climbing through the afternoon. I remember several days when temperatures flirted with 110° (the worst actually exceeded 110° a few times) — and I remember driving on the streets of Dallas and hearing the asphalt squish beneath the tires.

In 1980, a daytime high of only 100° was seen by some as a sign of an imminent cool front (it never was, but hope sprang eternal. Those triple–digit temperatures were daily facts of life for more than six weeks).

Needless to say, you could do a lot more than fry an egg on the pavement.

This summer's heat wave has been a scorcher, but the summer of 1980 (if it possessed human characteristics) would scoff. I can just imagine the things it would say. "Amateur!" it would sneer. "In my day, I gave 'em heat they're still talking about three decades later."

If some have their way, though, that consecutive triple–digit streak will tumble, and the summer of 2011 will be atop the list when all is said and done.

Marmaduke quotes a 15–year–old from Plano who wants a streak he can tell his grandkids about.

All I can say is, be careful what you wish for.

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