Friday, February 06, 2009

Heat Wave!

Southern Australia has been experiencing a rolling heatwave. In Melbourne, high temperatures brought the city's rail system to a grinding halt as rails buckled and trains were delayed or cancelled. The heat wave has now moved north to Sydney.

Coming out of the office yesterday, I hit a wall of heat. Temperatures where we live are tempered by sea breezes. These disappear as you move west in Sydney.

Temperatures at Paramatta where I work can be several degrees higher than those at home. Move further west to Penrith and temperatures go up another degree or so.

I grew up in a fahrenheit world. I also grew up in a cooler world, not because of global warming but as a consequence of altitude. I mention all this because with celsius temperatures I find that I don't know how hot it really is. I know it's hot, but how hot?

This is another small example of something that I have mentioned before, the way in which the language and the underlying constructs affect perceptions.

In my earlier world, 1oo degrees fahrenheit was the dividing line. Eighties and nineties were hot. Pass 100 and you have entered very hot, heat wave territory. Dogs and humans stayed in the shade.

In both Melbourne and Adelaide there were a number of days over over 40 degrees celsius, sometimes well over 40 degrees. This weekend temperatures in some parts of Sydney are forecast to reach 44 degrees. Now I know that's hot, but how hot is it? My fahrenheit mind still thinks of 40 as cold!

In this case I looked at the temperature conversion chart.

One hundred degrees fahrenheit lies between 37 and 38 degrees celsius. Okay, so that's my definition of heat wave. Forty four degrees celsius is just over 111 degrees on the old scale. Now my mind understands. That's bloody hot!

Just at present, I am working in an area where a large proportion of the staff come from regional NSW. From my viewpoint, that's very pleasant. There is also an unusually high proportion of smokers.

Yesterday chatting outside during a smoke break, a colleague told me that he had been talking to friends in Brewarrina in the far north west.

They had come into town to do some shopping. The reflected road temperature was 51 degrees celsius, 124 degrees fahrenheit. It was so hot that the car tires were sinking into the soft tar, leaving tyre marks in the bitumen. I fear that's too hot for me!

In my train reading, I have now finished Jim Fletcher's Clean, Clad and Courteous, a history of Aboriginal education in NSW.

The book was published in 1989, so really finishes at the start of the eighties. For that reason it captures attitudes at that point in time.

As with Byzantium, you can expect to be burdened with thoughts generated by the book. But not now. I need to water some seedlings.

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