Beware the Scorching Skies: The Ancient Origins of the Dog Days of Summer in Indiana
It's late July, but for the most part, it's been a relatively bearable summer in Indiana so far. Sure, we've had several hot days, but it seems to me they haven't been compounded by the stupid humidity that makes them unbearable and dangerous if you're outside for too long. However, it looks like that will be changing soon as the forecast here in southern Indiana is calling for daily temps in the low-to-mid-90s to start the week and upper 90s heading into the weekend. Add in some of that lovely humidity, and there's a chance we'll see our first 100 or more-degree heat index before it's over. Yep, it seems the "Dog Days of Summer" have made their way to us. But why are they called that? Spoiler alert: It has little to do with man's best friend.
History of the Term "Dog Days of Summer"
The Old Farmer's Almanac defines the "Dog Days" as the period of time from July 3rd - August 11th. While the stifling heat and humidity can cause us to pant like our four-legged friends, the term dates back thousands of years ago to ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations. According to the Almanac, the term is named after the star, Sirius, a.k.a. "the Dog Star" which is part of the constellation Canis Majoris—the “Greater Dog.” It is the brightest star in the sky.
Thanks to the natural rotation of Earth, Sirius appears to rise during the dawn hours around this time of year. Considering it's the second brightest star in the sky after the sun, ancient Greeks and Romans thought the combination of the two was the cause of the higher temperatures. The increased heat often led to less rainfall, bringing about drought conditions.
Egyptians on the other hand had a different experience with the Dog Days and actually welcomed it, likely because about 96% of Egypt is desert which makes growing anything extremely difficult. At some point in time, someone noticed the Nile River flooded each year close to the same time Sirius started appearing in the sky. The flooding was welcome by the civilization as it brought "rich soil needed to grow crops."
My guess is they had the same reaction to the rising river as Andy Dufrane did after escaping prison in The Shawshank Redemption.
Based on the recent heat wave a majority of the country has been dealing with over the past couple of weeks, it seems this year's Dog Days may be a bit on the rabid side. But as they always do, the Dog Days and the summer heat they bring will eventually be gone and we'll be complaining about how cold it is because that's just what we do.
You can learn more about the Dog Days of Summer on The Old Farmer's Almanac website.