Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Whether the Weather: Dry Heat vs. Humidity

With Ramadan right around the corner and the wind making a Mary Poppins-esque turn, the weather here has changed from a heat blown up from the depths of hell to a more tropical humid nightmare. While I could take the time to figure out how it can be 110F with 80% humidity in the desert without anyone of those elements canceling the other two out, I am instead reminded of something my father told me on my first trip to Vegas. It was the beginning of August and, as you might expect, it was insanely hot. This was also my first experience in a desert, or dry, environment of any sort and having grown up accustomed to suffocating humidity, the heat of Vegas was having its effect, leaving me constantly dehydrated (I hardly drank any alcohol because I was always so desperate for water) and, well, hot. When I mentioned this to my dad during a phone call home he told me that I couldn't be having a problem because, after all, the weather in Vegas was "only a dry heat." At the time I found it odd that my father, over in Maryland, could be telling me, the one in Nevada, that the I couldn't possibly be noticing the heat because it was "dry" - and I still find that notion incredibly absurd.

Yes, humidity can be miserable; a brief visit to the Southeast USA during summer will assure you of that fact. You step outside and almost instantly become damp not because of sweat, but because of the moisture in the air. If you buy cotton candy at a baseball game there's a good chance it will start to melt before you can eat it. Air conditioning fights in vain against the onslaught, always leaving you with a feeling of being slightly moist despite the 75F temperature inside. And of course, the heat doesn't dissipate at night but instead hangs there, suffocating, oppressive. I have a friend whose vegetables rotted on the vine one summer the humidity was so bad. There's no question it's hot because you can feel it, sticking to you.

The addage for dry heat, on the other hand, is that you don't feel it; apparently without moisture guiding your senses your body will be oblivious to the furnace you're standing in. This is absolute bullshit. The hint is in the title: DRY HEAT. Have you ever opened an oven door and, as the blast of hot air washes over your face, thought to yourself, "Man, I wish I knew if the oven was ready because I can't feel a thing"? Did you know that it's difficult to breathe in 125F weather because the air is, literally, burning your lungs? The same effect happens to your eyeballs when the windblows. When I first moved to LA, also during that first Vegas trip, I would get spontaneous nosebleeds because my sinuses were so dry. Or ask my husband the joys of working in the Kuwait desert where it easily reaches 134F and tools cannot be left outside because touching them, even while wearing gloves, will seriously burn your hand. Because it's fucking hot.

Yes, I know that the body's natural cooling system works better in dry heat because the sweat can actually evaporate, but when the heat gets over, say, 105F then your cooling mechanisms go into overdrive. This leads to faster dehydration and delirium caused by said dehydration. During the summer in the SF Valley the temperature would reach 104F in the shade, which offered no respite from the heat but merely safeguarded you from getting a sunburn. Oh, and the fact that dry weather leaves you feeling like a raisin and looking like a piece of chalk you're so ashy. There have been days I've drunk over a gallon of water and still felt thirsty and sluggish.

I performed a quick online search of "dry heat vs humidity" and found several forums related to people moving from one type of weather to the other and it seems the majority are overwhelmingly in favor of dry heat. After all, you can sit outside without becoming drenched in sweat after only 5 minutes! Though considering the pro-dry heaters tend to refer to coastal SoCal in their defense I think what they are actually enjoying is a Mediterranean climate. And I admit, when it's 90F and dry the heat is actually manageable and even be pleasant. It certainly feels hot, but it's not too bad. However, I can assure you that these same dry heat proponents have never experienced heat above 115F or even 110F. These increments may seem small but trust me, you feel every degree as it increases. 120F feels different than 115 and waaaay worse than 100, so much so that I cheered the arrival of humid weather.

Seth and I went for a walk yesterday around 6:30pm, about the same time I would normally go out because it's actually cooler then than at 5am. Though we were quickly covered in a combination of sweat and air moisture we both felt content because we could breathe easily, our blood didn't feel as though it was boiling and the air didn't smell like burning. It was nice. It was a relief. So the next time you hear the phrase "but it's a dry heat" please smile and do everyone a favor: punch them in the face.

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