This month has unleashed some of the hottest days — it seems — ever in Houston. It’s been brutal, like opening a door and stepping into a pizza oven. Before I moved to Houston, I lived in Phoenix, where the thermometer in my backyard routinely hit 120 degrees in July and August. I swear this month here has felt hotter.
The TV weatherman says Houston has approached 100 degrees (plus hellish humidity) several times so far in July. But hold on, how come my trusty indoor-outdoor thermometer says it’s only 92 or 93 outside my sprawling spring/summer home in West University Place? My thermometer couldn’t be wrong — I bought it at Costco.
A while back, sort of the same thing, I asked Channel 2's Frank Billingsley, “How can you say the temperature in 74 degrees at 7 pm, but parents are huddled under blankets at the Little League field on Stella Link by 610?”
His answer: “We call it ‘microclimates.’ In your ‘hood, a lot of heat is generated, and there’s a lot of bricks, shingles and cement. In the big open field, there is nothing like that to absorb heat and retain it during the night. In fact, the field spends all night losing heat. Haven’t you ever wondered why there is dew on the grass and not the street?”
Not even for a nanosecond.
So I tried again last week: “How can the official temperature be so much higher than my backyard?” According to Billingsley, my Costco thermometer may not be so trusty.
“A few things are going on here,” Billingsley says. “The first of which is that not all thermometers are the same. In fact, every thermometer is slightly different. How do I know this? My friend Adam Caskey, who is the chief meteorologist at KSAT-TV in San Antonio, actually makes thermometers. He loves to make them. I know, how crazy is that?”
I’m with you on crazy. Then again, lately I’ve been hooked on YouTube videos of “Karen” and “Ken” acting like jackasses, throwing fits and refusing to wear masks in stores that insist that customers wear masks. I can’t get enough of these videos. I’m not happy that they’ve tagged these angry fellows with the name “Ken.” This one does wear a mask. Happens to be an Astros mask. I get compliments.
Billingsley continues: “My friend will tell you that you can’t make every thermometer exactly the same. You can get close, of course. But it’s like asking every person in the room what time their watch says — not the time on their phones, but their watch. None will match to the second because of calibration. That’s the other thing, even with thermometers that are close, they can go years without ever being properly calibrated. Imagine if you never reset your watch for any reason.”
Billingsley says, even with a supersonic thermometer, you have to place it just right.
“There is the proper installation of a thermometer, not just hanging it on your back porch. It would be on the north side of your house, 5 feet above the ground, in a shuttered box that can only get ambient air passing through it, not influenced by sunlight, wind, or moisture. Even when all this is done, there will be influences of conditions. I’m not sure you can ever isolate an area to a perfect thermometer read unless it’s man-made, like a room with air conditioning. Consider how many of us are taking our temperature these days to find out we aren’t all just 98.6. We vary, just like locations around the city.”
Billingsley is right about people taking their temperature obsessively. I take my temperature at least three times a day. It’s scary when I visit a store and somebody is at the front door taking everybody’s temperature. It’s like waiting for the results of a home pregnancy test.
So far, I’ve never hit 98.6, I’m always in the high 97s or low 98s. Now I’m worried that I’m running a little chilly.
Saturday night, someone pointed the thermometer gun at my forehead as I entered Constellation Field to watch the Sugar Land Skeeters summer pro league. One of my former Little League kids now plays for the Sugar Land Lightning Sloths, which may have the best team nickname and worst mascot in sports. The mascot is someone in a sloth costume. The joke is, the mascot moves in slow motion, you know, like a sloth. It took him two innings to walk from behind home plate to my section behind first base. I’m serious.
I love Constellation Field. It’s a beautiful stadium with all the trimmings, and don’t be surprised if Major League Baseball puts a Triple A team there next year or one of these days. The cherry on top: Constellation Field offers Coke Zero at all its concession stands.