When the ‘precocity’ of heat exceeds your imagination

BY BILL HORNER III, Publisher
Posted 7/5/19

So, exactly how would you describe a temperature of 110 degrees?

How does “exceptional in its precocity and intensity” work for you?

A little fancier than “hotter than Hades,” as we …

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When the ‘precocity’ of heat exceeds your imagination

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Posted

So, exactly how would you describe a temperature of 110 degrees?

How does “exceptional in its precocity and intensity” work for you?

A little fancier than “hotter than Hades,” as we sometimes say in the South, but that’s how they’re describing the heat these days in Europe. And especially in France, whose Prime Minister Édouard Philippe uttered the line about “precocity and intensity” a few days ago.

He was inspired. Temperatures there and elsewhere in Europe in the last week have hit 111 degrees, 113 degrees, and even 116 degrees, shattering “tons of all-time heat records,” according to one meteorologist there.

That’s plenty hot in a place not accustomed to North Carolina-type heat, let alone heat that would make Death Valley blush.

How hot? Hot enough that the heat sparked a pile of combustible chicken manure in Spain, creating a “raging wildfire” there. Schools and public gatherings have been cancelled. Some cities have created smartphone apps directing people to “cool-down” places. Public pools are staying open late. And also this: organizers at an important cricket match in London allowed those sitting in a hoity-toity members-only pavilion to — gasp! — remove their jackets in a nod to extreme high temperatures.

“Young folk today, eh?,” someone tweeted in response. “Just no staying power. It’ll be flip flops next!”

“Disgraceful,” someone else tweeted. “No wonder this country is going downhill so fast.”

I’m a former climate change agnostic who, after a trip to Alaska last summer — where we saw how shockingly far glaciers have retreated since our last visit there in 2008, and seeing exposed rock on mountaintops where snow and ice have melted for the first time in a century — got converted. And two weeks ago, we were in stifling-hot Germany and Austria and, luckily, were sandwiched in between two even worse heat waves, the latter of which, still going on now, broke high temperature records in Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Luxemburg, France and Spain and generated public heat warnings in Belgium and Italy.

It was hot enough at one French airport to beat a 70-year-old heat record by an astounding 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have made a total of six trips to Europe since 2015 and, until our trip two weeks ago, rarely shed my jacket. So while we swelter here in the Tar Heel State with triple-digit heat indices, at least we have some relief: most of us live in air-conditioned homes and work in offices with A/C.

Not true over there. Only 2 percent of homes in Germany have air conditioning, and nearly three-quarters of the population of European Union nations live in cities where steel, concrete and asphalt create “heat islands.” The paucity of A/C makes things unbearable. Many hotels don’t have air conditioning; we spent three nights there without A/C on this last trip, which meant sleep in an 87-degree room came only after a cold shower right before bedtime.

The number of days considered “warm” by definition in Europe have doubled since 1960, and the U.N.’s panel on climate change has predicted that the continent may experience heat waves like this one as often as every two years. (And it’s not just Europe — temperatures in Greenland are as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit above normal this time of year, leading to the largest ice melt on record there. In India, the above-average heat has killed dozens.)

We could debate causes of and remedies for climate change (or “global warming,” as we used to call it) until the cows come home, but here’s one thing we can all agree upon: when you’re hot, you’re hot.
And this: we may not have fancy cricket matches here, but I’ll take air conditioning over that every day of the week.

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