by Ray Linville | Artwork by Sarah McElroy
What has happened to our calendar? Remember when the “dog days” of a hot, oppressive summer ended in August? Then the Labor Day weekend was a signal that the heat of summer was subsiding, and we could look forward to the arrival of a cooler, balmy season.
It seems like the hot days of August no longer end but now simply extend into September. The weather is perfect for more outdoor swimming, although most pools close for the season because their lifeguards go back to school.
Did you ever fry an egg on a sidewalk to prove how hot it was? This year forget that experiment, because our heat now would fry an egg inside a chicken. The last time I saw a heat wave in September I didn’t want to wave back.
The dog days mean to us what they meant to the ancient Greeks and Romans. As kids, we learned that dog days were so brutally hot that our pets would lie around languishing in the heat with no energy. But the days were actually named for when Sirius, the Dog Star, became visible again at sunrise in the sky. This time coincided with extreme heat that brought drought, discomfort and disease, and the rising star alerted the ancients to beware.
I now treat September as another summer month. Stay tuned to see if a temperature this month breaks a record. The hottest temperature in North Carolina occurred in August 1983 when the high reached 110 degrees in Fayetteville. Don’t be surprised to see hot temperatures linger longer this month and make the news.
Even the water temperature on the North Carolina coast is in the news. At Wrightsville Beach, where the high hadn’t before surpassed 84 degrees, the water was an astounding 89 degrees a few weeks ago. I usually enjoy our coast more after Labor Day than before because the crowds have left, the kids are back in school and a quiet walk on the beach in cooler temperatures is far more enjoyable than during the dog days. But are the dog days now still with us? It’s a sure sign of dog days if the beach chair gets up when you do.
Although Henry David Thoreau wrote, “One must maintain a little bit of summer, even in the middle of winter,” I’m completely ready to let summer leave by the end of August. Bring on cooler temperatures, and let’s also hope that the leaves change colors soon.
Do you remember when school started in September (unlike last month for the students of today)? Because the temperatures had subsided enough from summer highs, we didn’t mind conforming to a dress code at school that prohibited shorts and other summer clothes. Yes, that’s very old fashioned. Boys wore long pants and girls came to school in dresses (not pants in those days). Imagine if the school kids of today had to comply with the dress code of our generation.
However, if you think the dog days are still here in September, get ready for a surprise. Although the world has been getting warmer during the last 100 years, North Carolina (and southeast China) has been a major exception. Our average annual temperature between 1901 and 2000 has stayed about the same.
What should we do if we think the dog days have extended into September? Enjoy air conditioning and drink iced tea.
Ray Linville writes about local connections to Southern food, history and culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.