Legacy of Summer of 2011

Tony remembers 3 hotter summers than the summer of 2011.

 Comparing Summers of Yester-Year

 On First at 5 Monday night, I mentioned how the 3 hottest summers in my WSAZ career bested this season’s blazing heat. That’s right, heat waves in 1988 (my first), 1999 (the hottest) and 2007 (the one we all remember since it happened recently) all dwarfed this summer’s heat.


The summer of 1988 was my first here and was known for a half a dozen 100 degree days. Ken Batty, one of the fine meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Charleston, told me how he and his colleagues thought a 100 degree day might be hard to attain in the days of Yeager Airport measurements. (Recall, how the first half of the 20th century, official temperatures in Charleston were taken at the Custom House downtown).


I still recall the blazing heat and drought that suffocated crops that year. After a parched and scorched July, the corn crop failed in the Scioto bottom-lands while the burly Kentucky tobacco crop held on for dear life.


That season, fast moving thunderstorms did race through, but they were such quick hitters that they dropped a relatively small amount of rain.


If you were at the Four Tops concert in late July on the Huntington riverbank, you know what I mean. After a sunshiny and hot day of Power Boat races on the Ohio, Summerfest 1988 drew a huge crowd to Harris Park on July 23rd. My weather diary says around 9 pm, an electrical storm formed in Wayne County and right before the Four Tops were to take to the stage, the vicious storm arrived with sheets of wind driven rain and a dazzling display of lightning in Huntington.


Now fast forward a decade to the summer or 1999. That season showcased the classic heat riddled, drought stricken climate that visits Appalachia roughly every ten years. Spring rains proved scant and by May near 90 degree heat was firmly established.


By June 1999, blast furnace heat propelled downtown temperatures routinely to a simmering 95 to 100 degrees. Oddly perhaps, relatively comfortable evenings on the county fair circuit proved pedestrian as the dry ground could not add moisture to the air through evaporation. This kept the humidity in check all summer long and allowed for rapid evening drops in temperature.


Fiery sunsets blazed up the western sky from Lucasville (Scioto Fair) to Point Pleasant (Mason Fair) to Canonsburg (Boyd Fair’s first home). The heat broke as did the drought by September, but too late for farmers.


2007 is the standard by which 21st century hot summers will be judged for years even decades to come. That season, the temperature matched or exceeded 90 on 54 sweltering days, including virtually every day in August.


So long and stifling was the summer heat that high school football Friday night kickoffs in September and October were pushed back to 8PM to allow for some added autumnal cooling. I still remember the night I was at Tanks Memorial Stadium for the Fighting Tiger-Tomcat game. The sun set in an orangey fireball as temperatures hovered near 90 at 7:30 pm, the Friday before Columbus Day!


That brings us to the summer of 2011! So far, 32 days have made the mercurial 90 degree mark, a pace that is well ahead of 2007! That’s impressive on the surface, until you dig deeply into the numbers.


You see so far the highest reading this summer has only been a rather pedestrian 95 in Huntington and 96 in Charleston. Those numbers are rather mundane by 1988, 1999 and 2007 standards when century mark heat was common. Now the reality that we may not make 90 degrees again for 2 weeks or more comes into play.


So day by day as we fail to get to 90 over the next 2-3 weeks, we will fall behind the summers of ’88,’99 and ’07. Assuming that trend comes to be, the summer of 2011 is destined for “run-of the mill” hot status in the eyes of meteorologists.


Of course, your home cooling bill may not agree with that assertion!

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