The debate on the dog days of summer
June 4, 2020
Most of this story about dog days is from a few years ago, but with us at the beginning of the meteorological summer that runs from June 1 until August 31 unlike the astronomical summer that runs from June 20 until September 22, 2020. I thought that since the heat will be one of the main things on most of our minds for the next few months now would be a good time to repeat it since dog days was always a popular thing to talk about at most places I worked at over the years. Today is also the start of the 2020 hurricane season, which we have already had two named storms before the season started.
Dog days, are we into them now or do they start later. To many people dog days is the worst time of the summer because of the heat, and to some it's the worst time of the entire year. This depends on where and how you get your information about dog days.
If you check you will find that according to some sources Dog Days begin anywhere from July 3 until August 15 and run for anywhere between 30 and 61 days. To my grandparents there were 40 dog days and they run from July 25 to September 3, according to most calendars today dog days run from July 3 until August 11. My first thoughts on why there might be two sets of dog days was maybe the early set was for the northern half of the world, such as Canada, Greenland and other parts of the world in the far north. The second set was for those of us in the southern part of the world, turns out this was mostly wrong.
The ancient people, and I'm not talking about a few generations back but a few thousand years back were the ones to come up with the idea of dog days. The brightest star that you see in the southern sky during the winter months, Sirius is also known as the dog star, and is much brighter than the other stars around it. In ancient Egypt they kept a watch for the helical rising of the dog star, which would be the first day it became visible in the eastern sky. They knew that the Nile river would be flooding soon and hot and humid weather wasn't far behind. In ancient times this occurred during early July, due to the movement of the stars, and changes in the calendar the rising of the sun and Sirius now occur later in the month. With Sirius being so bright the ancient people felt that this added additional heat to the earth, of course today we know that is not the case.
As I mentioned before at a younger age I thought that the early dog days were for places up north and the later ones for the people down south. The rising of Sirius does vary just a little depending on your latitude on the earth. In England a few hundred years ago dog days varied a good bit, running anywhere from early July to early to mid September. At one time in England a few hundred years ago dog days lasted about sixty days, then a few years later shorten to just thirty one days. Today forty days is pretty much the standard.
I usually don't pay attention to the calendar where dog days are concerned, I listen to the Mockingbirds, when they stop singing it's dog days, they will make a little noise during dog days but not give you a good long song like other times of the year, and when they do go back to singing then I consider dog days to be over. This period usually runs from mid July to early September, but does vary some from year to year. My understanding as to why they really don't sing is that during this time of the year they are molting, or loosing their old feathers and growing new ones, and feel it's best to stay out of site when they don't have a full set of feathers.
Regardless of when you consider dog days starting and ending, most of us that have lived here in the south for any amount of time know that during July, August and at least the first half of September it's probably going to be hot and humid. Remember, in our part of the world if you are working or playing outside this time of year, you can get to hot in a hurry. Do what ever you have to, to keep from over heating and remember even dog days and summer will eventually come to an end, probably in December around here.
Normally the ASHS meets at 6 P.M. the third Tuesday of each month at the Leach House Museum at 4th and Jefferson in Century. But due to the Covid-19 pandemic all meetings and activities have be put on hold for the time being. Hopefully we will be able to start having our meetings again in the future.