Cow-calf commentary: Heat and toil


KIMBALL, Neb. – Working on cross fencing has been more than a bit uncomfortable for me this year. I’m recovering from surgery for a bone infection in my left heel, and that had me sitting on my backside for about seven months. By the time I got up and around again I could scarcely believe how out of shape I was.
Once calving had finished and I returned from vacation, a mostly cool June was turning hot, and that was followed by a hot July.
Combining fence work with rebuilding my own strength and endurance was in many ways a good idea, but it was a tough road to hoe at times. Particularly when it got very hot out.
Now the high summer heat of July is starting to wane. It’s been more than a month since summer solstice, and the sun is well along on its southward journey. Each day is slightly shorter than the last, each night slightly longer. Fewer minutes of sunlight means fewer minutes of warming. As the sun moves south, the sun angle grows more acute with respect to the surface. Sunlight must now take a longer, slanting path through the atmosphere rather than hammering straight down, and this serves to attenuate heating as well.
Back in the winter, meteorologists were predicting the onset of El Niño conditions in the July-August time frame. Such conditions often presage slight cooling and increased precipitation here on the High Plains. As it happens, sea surface temps in the equatorial Pacific are indeed elevated, but atmospheric conditions remain neutral. The current defined ENSO state is therefore neutral, but it’s interesting to note that about a week after sea surface temps came up we began to have a bit of cooling. That’s just information, and the correlation doesn’t prove anything at all, but it is interesting to think about.
The sun is the driver when it comes to summer heat, but there are countless factors which contribute to high mercury readings and our subjective perception that it’s too hot.
Chief among those factors is the complexity of our planet’s atmosphere. The “air” that makes up Earth’s atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and oxygen, roughly 78 percent to 21 percent. There’s also about 0.9 percent argon and 0.1 percent trace gasses. The atmosphere also contains up to 5 percent water vapor, but we’ll ignore that for the moment. As it turns out, our atmosphere contains about 1.09 x 10 to the 44th dry gas molecules. Written out, that’s 109 followed by 42 zeroes, or 109,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules.
All of those trillions and trillions and trillions of molecules are constantly bashing into one another, flowing down concentration and pressure gradients, joining together in ridges and troughs, and carrying on according to our best understanding of chaos theory.
Add water vapor molecules to the mix and atmospheric chaos becomes even more chaotic.
Where the molecules are moving most quickly, there it is hottest, for temperature is just a way of describing molecular velocity. High velocity also means high pressure, and as gasses tend to move from areas of high pressure/concentration to areas of lower pressure/concentration, so too do air temperatures.
Many other things contribute to local temperature variation. Surface altitude, land topography, land use, vegetative cover, plant evapotranspiration, cloud cover, relative humidity, ENSO, butterfly populations in Vietnam, and even mosquito flatulence -- all of these and more determine local air temperatures.
Humans contribute too, but despite the car-salesman patter of the AGW crowd, there’s simply zero credible or falsifiable evidence that our contribution is any more or less than that of butterflies and
mosquitoes.
Now that I’m older I notice summer heat more than I used to. I don’t have a lot of choice about working outside. The work must be done, and waiting for cooler weather isn’t a viable option. I prefer to work when it doesn’t feel too hot, but I also perversely pride myself on being able to take the heat.
Of course I’ve never had to work on the ranch in the kind of summer heat my grandparents faced back in the 1930’s and 1940’s, when June-August daily high temperatures routinely ranged between 100-110 degrees. This summer the average high in June was a chilly 81 degrees (only 5 days above 90 degrees!) and 91 in July (21 days above 90, 1 day
above 100).
Just for completeness, the average June-August mean air temperature back in the 1930’s and 1040’s was about 79 degrees; so far this summer it’s running about 75.
It’s interesting and enlightening to look at the temperature graphs.
So yeah, it’s not been that hot this summer. Doesn’t look good for man-caused global warming, either.

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