Monday, March 15, 2010

A Hot Mess, and It Isn’t Yet Spring!

The Pink Lake at Dakar, Senegal gets its color from lots of salt content and plenty of sunshine. In Dakar, where the latitude is 14, the sun shines around 300 days a year. Photo courtesy of

HEAD’S UP: Yours Truly is still in North Louisiana trying to be the best patient advocate possible for my ailing Ma Ma. I arrived a few days after Old Girl was admitted to hospital on 31 January in atrocious shape. While much better, she is not yet well enough for me to return to Gotham where there are at least eight million stories. Dutiful daughter that I am, I remain in the southern branch of the family seat. Happily, I do have stories. And I plan to tell them.

WHEN I returned home to Monroe, Louisiana for my 10th anniversary high school reunion, I was living in Greater Boston – Weymouth, to be precise. It was Fourth of July weekend.

The actual event was bittersweet, but what stands out most in my mind is the weather. I could hardly breathe. It was hot. It was humid. It was sticky. It was HELL on earth. After that experience I adopted the mantra, “I lost my immunity to humidity” living as I had in a number of cooler climates since leaving to make my way in the world. I vowed never to return to Louisiana between May and September. Further, I vowed never again to complain about the heat. And I didn’t. Even when I visited Senegal and Egypt!

Often enough in Boston, complaints would rain down like all get out if the mercury rose to, say, 85 degrees/76 percent humidity. Same deal in other places I’ve lived, including Paris, France and Washington D.C. And, of course, the Big Apple. My automatic rejoinder: “There is hot and there is sweltering.” I know the difference. I never get it twisted. Never.

A few days here in the last week – early March – reminded me of that aforementioned July way back when. Initially, I was excited after the Weather Channel forecasted highs in the low- to mid-70s. It has been unseasonable cool since my arrival in early February. In fact, it has snowed – a rarity. Naturally, the city shut down, further complicating my life and efforts to visit my mother in hospital, amongst other inconveniences. I was looking forward to spring-like weather.

What I’d not thought too terribly much about when the heat was on is what Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society, reminded me of. Being closer to the equator, Louisiana will give off more heat than New York.

“Air temperature is hotter and humidity is higher in Louisiana than it is in New York and that impacts how things will feel on the skin,” KS explained. “Because you are closer to the equator, at noon the sun is higher in the sky and that means that the energy hitting each square inch on the skin is larger than if you are sitting in New York at noon.”

Of course, the location of a place in relation to the equator determines its relative warmth or coolness. This is measured in degrees of latitude. The latitude at the equator is 0. The closer a city/state/country/continent is to the equator the lower its latitude; the farther away the higher its latitude. The latitude of the North Pole is 90; South Pole is minus 90. In Boston, it is 42.3; Dakar, Senegal, 14; Cairo, 30; Paris, 48; Washington, DC, 38.9. In New York City it is 40.6; Monroe, 32.5.

“Imagine taking a flashlight and shining it on a table,” KS said. “If you hold the flashlight at an angle so it is away from the table the light is like an oval. If it is directly above the table it’s like a circle; it’s more concentrated” and hotter.

Driving in temperatures last week that were 73 degrees/70 percent humidity in a place at a latitude of 32.5, and thus more circular, the energy from the sun hitting my forearms and legs was unbearable. It felt like someone had struck a match to my skin. Luckily, I was wearing long sleeves, which I snatched down in double-quick fashion. On my bear legs, I used my purse as sunblock.

Hot legs! Not the kind Rod Stewart crooned about.

Learn more about the American Meteorological Society at Look up the latitudes of U.S. cities and cities around the world at and, respectively.

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