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Don Paul: You think this is hot? Then you don't remember the summer of '88

It doesn’t matter whether you like heat and humidity or whether you hate it. I’m closer to the latter group. I may be a meteorologist but I have no more power to make weather go my way than any of you do.

Yet every time I post about hot – in this case excessively hot (from a public health standpoint) weather, I get a bunch of comments from the lovers of such and some haters. “Bring it on!” “About time!” “Winters are long and summers are short. Bring that heat!” Or, “Please, no humidity!” “I can’t breathe!” Like I said, when it comes to preferences, it doesn’t matter. As you can figure out, weather will do as required by the interactions between the laws of physics. Likes don’t count.

This time around, there can be no debating it will be too hot for those not paying attention to the environment and their bodies.

As of this writing, the National Weather Service has issued a rare (for Western New York) Excessive Heat Warning, which is beyond a Heat Advisory. This will be in effect for the Niagara frontier on Sunday. The heat index will approach 105, which is dangerous. You may love heat and humidity, and attitude can help. But 105 is dangerous under many circumstances for those not doing the doggie paddle in a nice, cool pool.

We are heading into our longest heat wave in a number of years, and we are not acclimated to it. It appears we will lose some of Saturday’s helpful lake breeze in the metro area by Sunday, and probably all of it by Tuesday and the Fourth of July. Parts of northern Niagara, Orleans, Genesee counties and some valleys will reach the mid- to upper 90s in actual temperatures, not the heat index. Nighttime lows will be in the 70s with high humidity, which makes the heat stress seem relentless to many at risk without air conditioning.

Don Paul: No air conditioning? Here's how to cope with the heat.

As hot as it’s going to be, we would be hard pressed to match the incredibly hot summer of 1988, in which much of the Midwest, the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states suffered through the hottest summer in recent decades. From July 4 through July 10, the airport observatory recorded highs of 92, 95, 97, 94, 96, 92 and 95. The 97-degree reading was the hottest ever recorded in July. That stretch was the longest streak of consecutive 90-plus degree days in Buffalo history, going back to 1871. Each of those highs was a record for the date. That was the worst of that summer, but the heat was far from over. On July 16, we went back to 93. From Aug. 2 to 5, we recorded 96, 94, 91 and 90. On Aug. 9, we came back to 90, and from the 11th through the 14th, we hit 90, 92, 90 and 91.

We totaled out at 16 90-plus degree days. Our average is three per season. Sixteen such days would be nirvana in Oklahoma City or Houston or Birmingham. It would be all but impossible in Phoenix to have such an arctic summer.

A broad statement holds true for those who live in the sunbelt. They are used to heat. We are not.

As for the elusive 100-degree mark, from a previous article I wrote on the Tampa, Miami and Buffalo Thermal Match: “Officially, none of the three cities have ever hit 100 officially. OK, that’s not hard to believe about Buffalo. But Miami? Tampa? Credit the marine layer, in all three places. The ocean and lake-modified layer of air near the surface caps off the ability of the surface air to peak to the higher temperatures of locations not influenced by the water. Lake Erie, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic all heat up during the summer. But no matter how warm they get, they will always be cooler than a truly hot air mass. The added moisture in this marine layer modifies the surface air. That humidity may well make the surface air FEEL more oppressive. After all, high dew points make it more difficult for sweat on your skin to evaporate and carry off excess body heat (evaporative cooling). But the actual temperature simply can’t get as hot when there is a marine layer present over land as it can when there is no marine influence. Buffalo has hit 99 just once, on Aug. 27, 1948. Tampa’s highest reading is 99 and Miami’s is 98.”

It requires a downslope wind from the south or southeast, by which the air descending from higher elevations heats up by compression and dries out to get our actual temps to the max. Despite this heat wave, true downslope winds are not indicated in the models and ensembles, so I’m confident 100 stays elusive for Buffalo.


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