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Some myths, and tips, about summer weather

Some of these topics appeared in a Washington Post Capital Weather Gang article a few years ago.

However, I have written on all of the following in past articles and in my former Buffalo Weather Blog. I think they bear repeating.

1. August is the hottest month.

Even though August is typically filled with a good supply of steamy days, and even though the hottest day on record for Buffalo was Aug. 27, 1948 (99 degrees), July is usually the hottest month of the year. That is, the highest average temperatures peak in July and very slowly drop off for the remainder of the summer. Most of July, our high temperature averages 80, drifting off a tad into the upper 70s during early August.

Ceiling fans help cool people, but not rooms, so turn them off when you leave.  (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

Ceiling fans help cool people, but not rooms, so turn them off when you leave. (Robert Kirkham/News file photo)

2. Muggy air is heavy air.

“The air was heavy with heat and humidity.” In actuality, warm and humid air is lighter than cool and dry air. Warm air rises and cool air sinks. A muggy airmass is typically even more buoyant. In humid air, the hydrogen in H20, nature’s lightest element, displaces some of the nitrogen in air. That makes the warm, humid air relatively lighter than dry air.

As for hot air, airliners use more of the runway to take off on hot days than on cool days. On rare occasions, takeoffs are grounded at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport in extreme heat due to inadequate lift in the thinner hot air for the length of those runways.

Interestingly, Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport was designed better to cope with hot weather. The runways are longer, and have a 1.5-degree downward slope so aircraft can gather more speed on takeoff.

A teeny tidbit: You can save electricity by turning off ceiling fans when you leave a room. Fans don’t lower the temperature of the air, and leaving a ceiling fan on when you’re not in the room wastes some electricity. However, once you’re back in the room fans will aid in evaporation of perspiration, which carries off heat from your skin. And if that brings you adequate cooling, you can save a little on AC costs by either leaving your unit off or by raising your thermostat.

3. Sports drinks are superior to water.

Nearly all of us do best with plain water to replenish liquids and quench our thirst. Those under real stress and duress from very strenuous activity in the heat may gain some benefit from sports drinks’ added salt and sugar, but guzzling sports drinks under light activity brings either needless calories from the sugar or needless sodium.

Too much sugar makes your body expend more fluids in metabolizing the sugar. Alcohol and caffeine have a diuretic effect, which means you’ll end up excreting more fluid over time than you take in. That cold beer is fine in a quiet setting, but it’s not the thing to drink if you’re huffing, puffing and sweating while active.

The sun rises behind the City of Buffalo, N.Y., Wednesday, July 6, 2016.  (Photo by Derek Gee)

The sun rises behind the City of Buffalo, N.Y., Wednesday, July 6, 2016. (Photo by Derek Gee)

4. It's not about proximity to the sun.

“The earth is closer to the sun in summer.” All of summer’s heat is due to the tilt of our axis, which brings the most direct exposure on the day of the summer solstice in June. It then takes the earth several weeks to store up this extra solar input, which is why July is hotter than June.

The actual distance of the earth from the sun is greatest in early July. Of course, the opposite is true for the winter solstice and January.

5. "Green sky means a tornado may be nearby."

Yes and no, but more no than yes. In Scientific American, Meredith Knight explained this myth. Water droplets absorb red light, making the scattered light look bluer. However, in the late afternoon and early dusk, there is more red light in the sky and this can make a dark gray thunderstorm appear greenish. Thunderstorms are more likely in climatology to occur later in the day and toward early evening, so the opportunity for greenish skies increase.

Tornadoes are also associated with thunderstorms, so the risk of a tornado is somewhat higher. But the overwhelming majority of greenish sky storms are non-tornadic thunderstorms, since tornadoes occur in only a very small minority of storms.

6. It takes one second for the sound of lightning to travel one mile.

“Counting the number of seconds between lightning and hearing thunder determines the number of miles away for locating the storm.” Actually, it takes five seconds for the super-heated air of a lightning bolt to travel one mile, not one second. So take it slow on the count, folks.

And I already covered in a previous article another well-worn myth: There is no such thing as heat lightning. When you see lightning and don’t hear thunder, it’s simply a matter of the storm's being too distant for the sound to reach you. Lightning always produces thunder – no exceptions.

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