With nearly three dozen afternoons with readings at or above 90° - five of which reached 100° - already under our belt, most folks who’ve lived in Charlotte and the Carolinas would say we’re now firmly stuck in the “dog days.” You know, those mid-summer days so brutally hot that even dogs lie around on the asphalt, panting.
But do the “dog days” really have any connection to summer the staples of ice cream cones, cold lemonade and kids cooling off in the pool? Do they even have anything to do with dogs?
As it turns out, not really.
Many people today use the phrase to describe those brutally hot, oppressively humid days we so often experience here in July.
The truth is, originally, the phrase actually had nothing to do with dogs, or even with the lazy days of summer. Instead, it turns out, the dog days refer to the dog star, Sirius, and its position in the heavens this time of the year.
To the Greeks and Romans, the “dog days” occurred three weeks either side of the day when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, in late July. They referred to these days as the hottest time of the year, a period that could bring fever and sickness.
These were the days long before air-conditioning and contemporary cooling; days when intense heat really could bring widespread catastrophe to the people of the Mediterranean region.
Sadly, under the right conditions, catastrophe can and still does happen. Late this spring, more than 2,500 people in India lost their lives to a brutal month-long spell. Since 1990, more than 20,000 people in India have succumb to scorching triple-digit heat.
Looking back, the phrase “dog days” was translated from Latin to English about 500 years ago. Since then, it has taken on new meanings.
Today, people come up with other explanations for why they’re called the ‘dog days’ of summer. One such description is that these are the days when dogs can go crazy from the heat, even rabid!
The truth is, when we don’t know the origin of a phrase, we come up with a plausible explanation.
And while the true meaning has been lost, the phrase lives on in lore.
So, did the Greeks get it right? Are the dog days, around when Sirius rises, really the hottest days of the year?
Well, yes and no.
Although July and August are generally known as the hottest months of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the hottest period can vary from year to year. And depending on your latitude, the astronomical dog days can come at different times.
In Athens, for instance, Sirius will rise around the middle of August this year. But farther south, it’ll happen earlier in the year; farther north, it’ll happen later.
Closer to home, as early as May many across the WBTV viewing area experienced highs in the 90s and several days in June reached the century mark. Based on the 30 year average high temperature of 89°, we’re right about on target for a heat streak. But oftentimes that comes later in August – like it did last year – and can even linger into September, when 100° are not unheard of!