The Middle Ground Between Light and Shadow, Between Science and Superstition
By Mary O’KEEFE
In a 1961 episode of “The Twilight Zone” titled “The Midnight Sun” the characters are faced with an intense heat wave. It began because a month earlier the Earth suddenly changed its elliptical orbit that caused the planet to move closer to the Sun.
Although over the last few weeks it may have felt as if this sci-fi warning was coming true, the fact is that temperatures aren’t quite as intense as they were for poor Norma and her neighbor Mrs. Bronson in “The Twilight Zone” episode. Factor in the humidity here and you’ve got some uncomfortable summer days that may be a little more relatable to the cautionary “The Twilight Zone” tale. What is a little too similar to the sci-fi classic is the lack of water and rain that Southern Californians can relate to.
The rainfall in Burbank since Oct. 1, 2021 is 9.93 inches; the norm is 13.8 inches and our monsoon season, which is winding down, has been disappointing.
“Monsoon [season] has not had much of an impact in Los Angeles County,” said David Gomberg, meteorologist with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Oxnard. He added that any monsoonal rain this season occurred in the mountains and deserts and the “window of opportunity” for rain locally is closing. Although in the past there have been tropical storms that hit Southern California in September, the chance for the rain they bring normally ends in August.
The rains we are not getting are in contrast to what southern Arizona is dealing with, specifically the Sierra Vista area.
“In Sierra Vista, where we have one of the [rain] gauges [with a] longer history, we have seen above normal rainfall by several inches,” said Rob Howlett, meteorologist National Weather Service, Arizona.
He added while some areas in Arizona have seen above normal rainfalls, others have not.
“The Tucson area has been below normal,” he said.
And yet there is a roadway that leads from Sierra Vista to historic Tombstone. The road is like a rollercoaster. That area, according to Howlett, has seen “two to three” times more rainfall than usual during the monsoon season.
Though there is a lot of storm runoff with such a heavy rainfall it isn’t able to infiltrate the soil and it all runs down the streets, streams and washes, he added.
“Right now the Gila River had a lot of heavy rainfall that is impacting [Sierra Vista] area,” he said.
The Gila River is a tributary of the Colorado River flowing through Arizona and New Mexico. The Colorado River is also at record lows.
“The entire state [of Arizona] is in a drought,” Howlett said. “This [rain] is going to help but it doesn’t help as much as a winter [snow/rain].”
He added it’s the winter precipitation/snow that can make more of a difference for the water tables but any amount of water that is received helps.
And monsoonal storms aren’t all that are hitting southern Arizona. The humidity has been higher than normal in Arizona as well, Howlett said.
“We track the dew point and it has been pretty much above normal,” he added.
“The dew point is the temperature the air needs to be cooled to [at a constant pressure) in order to achieve a relative humidity (RH) of 100%. At this point the air cannot hold more water in the gas form. If the air were to be cooled even more, water vapor would have to come out of the atmosphere in the liquid form, usually as fog or precipitation. The higher the dew point rises the greater the amount of moisture in the air. This directly affects how ‘comfortable’ it will feel outside. Many times, relative humidity can be misleading. For example, a temperature of 30 and a dew point of 30 will give you a relative humidity of 100%, but a temperature of 80 and a dew point of 60 produces a relative humidity of 50%. It would feel much more ‘humid’ on the 80 degree day with 50% relative humidity than on the 30 degree day with a 100% relative humidity. This is because of the higher dew point. So if you want a real judge of just how ‘dry’ or ‘humid’ it will feel outside, look at the dew point instead of the RH. The higher the dew point, the muggier it will feel,” according to the National Weather Service.
On Monday at about 3 p.m. the humidity level in Sierra Vista was 53% with a dew point of 62%; Phoenix was 37% with a dew point of 63% and La Crescenta was 47% humidity with a dew point of 62%. In my hometown of Oskaloosa, Iowa, where humidity is a normal way of summer life, it was 54% humidity with a dew point of 64%. Maybe we need to rethink “it’s a dry heat.”
In “The Midnight Sun,” when Norma and Mrs. Bronson listen to the radio the newscaster warns to stay inside as those who are looking for water become more desperate. A man breaks into their apartment, drinks what little water they have saved and then apologizes. He is ashamed for what his desperation has brought him to. The temperature rises so high that Norma collapses. The scene fades to black and when it slowly fades back in it is discovered the rising temperatures were all a dream. The Earth is actually cooling, the thermometer reads -10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extreme weather alert from the “Twilight Zone.”
“The poles of fear, the extremes of how the Earth might conceivably be doomed … a minor exercise in the care and feeding of a nightmare, respectfully submitted by all the thermometer-watchers – in the ‘Twilight Zone.’” Rod Serling
Locally, we will see temperatures in the low 90s to the mid-80s Fahrenheit over the next few days with no rain in the forecast through Tuesday. The lowest temperature, with a high of 83 degrees, will be on Sunday.