on the hot seat
Forget 'feels like': How hot is it in Houston for real? Ken Hoffman has burning questions for ABC13's expert
The TV weather forecaster says today’s high temperature will be 100 degrees … dew point, feels like, sunrise, wind direction, barometric pressure, sunset, yadda yadda, back to you, Gina.
Then, you open your front door and it feels like you’re walking into a blast furnace.
So how hot is it? For real?
Before I moved to Houston I lived in Phoenix. The TV weather forecaster would say the current temperature was 114. The thermometer in my backyard, less than a mile from the TV station, said 122. Some days it would hit 125. For real.
I’ve heard that a city’s “official temperature” is taken at a local airport, in a shady, grassy area away from buildings and asphalt. So, the official temperature is accurate and meaningful … if you’re a squirrel who lives near the airport.
But, if you’re a human who lives near concrete streets and brick buildings, the official temperature has little to do with anything.
So let’s put ABC13 meteorologist Travis Herzog under oath and find out: Just how hot is it these days in Houston?
CultureMap: Are we in an historic heatwave or does it just feel that way?
Travis Herzog: You just lived through Houston’s hottest June on record. I’d call that historic.
CM: Last weekend, you predicted a high temperature of 103 for Saturday and 104 for Sunday. I live a few blocks from your TV station. My indoor-outdoor thermometer said it was 106 on the mean streets of West University Place. What gives?
TH: I don’t know whether to be flattered or creeped out that you keep buying houses near TV stations. But your thermometer is probably accurate. If you were to measure the temperature directly above the mean streets, it would read even hotter, probably around 120 degrees.
CM: Where is the official temperature taken in Houston?
TH: Houston’s official thermometer for record-keeping purposes is located at Bush Airport. The thermometer must be mounted five feet above the ground, protected from direct sunshine (shaded), and well-ventilated (adequate air flow).
It should be located at least 100 feet away from buildings and paved surfaces, and any grass or vegetation within 100 feet should be clipped to 10 inches or less. And you thought your HOA was bad!
These siting standards help us to make apples-to-apples temperature comparisons across the country, but they don’t come close to replicating the actual conditions we city slickers live in.
CM: Your weather map shows temps in various parts of the Houston viewing area. Who supplies those temps, how often are they updated?
TH: Most of them come from the ASOS weather stations operated by the National Weather Service and FAA at local airports. Some of them come from a network called MADIS that is a mixture of commercial, government, and personal weather stations, but those have less quality controls in place.
Hourly readings are given at 55 minutes after the hour, but they will update more frequently if significant weather changes occur, like a dramatic temperature drop, change in sky conditions, or strong wind gust.
CM: Why do you report the dew point when I have no idea what that means?
TH: Because our average viewer is smarter than you. Plus, it’s a better indicator of how much moisture is really in the air.
CM: What is “feels like” temperature?
TH: It’s either the heat index or the wind chill factor. Another name for it is the “apparent temperature.” This is an attempt to describe how the weather conditions make it feel to our bodies.
We all know it feels a lot colder when the wind is cranking, and a dry heat is more pleasant than dog-breath humidity. The heat index takes into account the temperature and dew point, and it assumes you’re in the shade and the wind is about 5 mph.
CM: Is it ever going to rain again?
TH: As surely as the sun rises. If for some reason the sun does not rise, then we’ve got a problem and I’ll need to rethink my answer.
CM: Where in the world would you find the single best weather city?
TH: The Canary Islands claim to be the “Land of Eternal Spring” and boast of the best climate in the world. But if I wanted to be in the thick of extreme weather like droughts, floods, hurricanes, heat waves, severe storms, and occasional winter storms, I suppose I’d stay right here in Houston.
After all, Harris County was recently declared by NOAA to be the most at-risk county in the country for weather and climate disasters.
CM: In your career, what’s the biggest wrong forecast you ever made?
TH: I once predicted the Texans would win the Super Bowl. Oops. (Editors note: No worries, Travis. We have you beat on the worst Texans prediction ever.)