Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The weather forecast for Columbia, South Carolina is the same as every other year that we have to go there. 147 degrees, no clouds to speak of, NO breeze, and no shade to be found anywhere. Do trees grow over there? I'm not so sure. That place has to be the hottest on the Earth.

In honor of UGA's biennial pilgrimmage to the seventh level of hell that is Columbia, South Carolina, I wanted to fill you in on what causes this extreme heat and what places on Earth also experience this phenomenon. Is it that there is a direct line to Satan's lair, huge unnoticed magma tubes, or has the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair tanned so much that he can actually fuse hydrogen atoms into helium atoms and generate heat much the same as the sun? I'll hope it's the latter.


So why do we have extremely warm places on Earth? Well, if you don't buy that there are little "Nature Boys" roaming around everywhere, there is another answer. The hottest places on the planet are usually between 5 and 30 degrees north of the equator, with Columbia being the exception here at 34 degrees. The sun hits most directly at the equator causing the air to warm and rise. When the air starts to flow north and south it "piles" up and forms permanent high pressure zones. This air drops and is warmed even more and, because the air contains no clouds, the sun goes straight through the air and heats the landmass further.

Because warm air can hold much more water vapor than cold air, there is less likelihood that the moisture will get to the ground. Hence, a desert forms. This is why most deserts are in the 5 to 30 degrees latitude zone. Tropical zones also form in these areas because trade winds coax the air back toward the Equator and cause it to rise, which cools the air and condenses the water in the air mass. This creates large amounts of rain.

Much to my chagrin, scientists have determined that El Azizia, Libya is the hottest inhabited place on Earth. I'm sure Columbia runs a close second. At a weather station there in 1922, temps were recorded as high as 136 degrees farenheit. Dallol, Ethiopia is known for having the hottest average ambient air temperature at around 94 degrees. The average daily high there is around 106 degrees.

Despite being around the same latitude, Athens is about 4 degrees cooler, on average, than Columbia in September. Athens is about 500 feet higher in elevation than Columbia, so that could be part of the equation. However, I really don't think that fact plays a huge part in the difference. The only guess I can hazard to explain this difference is that Athens is resonably close to the Appalachian Mountains, which breaks up the air and causes it to rise, then cool and condense. I could be completely wrong, who knows.

At this point, I'm sure that the "Nature Boy" theory is a little bit more plausible.

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