Dog Days of August

August is kind of a crazy month.

Here in Washington, D.C., the trains are nearly empty as Congress begins its summer recess and thousands of non-profit staffers (like we here at National Geographic Education) make use of their oft-generous vacation leave. Fewer numbers of bodies on the Metro mean slightly cooler, more comfortable conditions–a welcome change in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave sweeping the Eastern U.S.

What exactly is a heat wave, anyway, I wonder? Is the definition the same in Nova Scotia and New Mexico? What was the hottest temperature ever recorded in the U.S.–and where was it?

This short, 5-question quiz from Family Education provides some answers to these questions (just make sure to click the little link at the top right of the screen when an advertisement pops up to go back to the quiz–it’s not too distracting).

Unfortunately, It’s not clear that the scorching temperatures will abate any time soon. Climate change is conspiring against us, after all, and we are smack-dab in the middle of the Dog Days of Summer, to boot.

Do you know where the phrase “Dog Days of Summer” comes from?

Thumbnail image for sirius.gifThe ancient Egyptians and Greeks used the term to refer to the time of
year when Sirius, the “Dog Star,” rose at the same time as the Sun,
typically during the hottest part of the summer. Because Sirius was the
brightest star in the sky, its presence was believed to contribute to
warmer summer temperatures (as in from additional radiation reaching the Earth).

These days, Sirius rises with the Sun earlier during the summer months, due
to a phenomenon called axial precession, which means that the Earth’s
axis of rotation shifts slightly over time. Learn more about the
astronomy behind the “Dog Days of Summer”  from Cornell University experts.

And now–finally–back to the original point of this post. As a kid growing up in suburban Massachusetts, August was always the
time for family vacations. And yet, in increasing numbers of districts
across the nation, August means “back to school.”

So I want to know: What are you up to during this crazy month of August?

Are you enjoying uncharacteristically cool temperatures in the Midwest
(likely another symptom of climate change)? Are you a teacher preparing
the year’s geography curriculum in preparation  for “back to school”?
Are you exploring the geography of the great outdoors on a vacation?

Tell me what you’re up to, and I’ll share some of my own August adventures in a future post.
Have a great weekend–whatever you’re doing!

Sarah Jane for My Wonderful World

Images courtesy SoCross Blog,

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