In Europe, Germans and Britons wipe their brows after the hottest July on record. In the US, triple-digit temperatures have at last quit the West Coast, slid eastward to fry the Midwest, and now are giving the East Coast a thorough toasting. As a wise yogi once said (Yogi Berra, that is), "It ain't the heat, it's the humility."
Yes, it is a bit humbling to see that even our digitized postmodern society seems challenged to mitigate the effects of a sizzling summer.
The dog days of August? What's a dog to like about this? Natural gas prices soar as power plants huff and puff to generate enough electricity to meet record demand.
As an obedient audience once would shout to late-night TV king Johnny Carson: How hot is it?
So hot, he would say, that he saw a dog chasing a cat – and both were walking.
So hot in 2006 that places like Minneapolis, known for its winter carnival, and Fargo, N.D., its tundra forever frozen on film in the movie of the same name, joined the 100-degree-plus club this week. So hot that in Paris, water mists cooled visitors to the Eiffel Tower. So hot that New York turned off the necklace lights on its East River bridges, part of that city's singular nightscape, to save energy.
It's so hot couples are vying for control of the thermostat even more assiduously than the TV remote. One wants the air inside to be arctic, trying to blot out thoughts of what's outside. The other, mindful of savings in energy (and the utility bill to come), inches up the air conditioning degree by degree to find the highest livable setting.
So hot that, for those without AC, the ways to cope are many and varied: Cold showers (leave hair wet for maximum effect), capturing the cool night air, and the strategic placement of fans become minor art forms.
A little wisdom and a lot of humor can go a long way to minimize the temporary inconveniences and discomforts of unusual weather. But with more than 160 deaths attributed to the extreme heat in California alone this summer, a sober side remains. Any heat-related deaths are unnecessary. After the tragedies in heat waves of earlier years, governments seem to be more responsive. In both Europe and the US, they provide places to cool down. And both governments and individuals are taking it upon themselves to contact the elderly, shut-ins, and the solitary to make sure they are all right.
Despite record demand for electricity this summer, dangerous blackouts have so far been rare, a tribute to better planning and conservation. But sitting inside on a hot summer day can be a good time for everyone to reexamine their own energy use: Can I switch to newer, more energy-efficient appliances? Pull those "vampire" plugs for cellphones and other small electronic devices out of the wall when not in use (they draw electricity whenever plugged in)?
Are longer, hotter heat waves going to be regular visitors in future summers? Some climatologists think so. What both governments and individuals do now to prepare can help lessen their effects.
"The hound of the autumn wind is slow; he loves to bask in the heat and sleep," wrote Peter MacArthur in "An Indian Wind Song."
Right now, we'd gladly settle for just a cool breeze.