The "Heat Index" Measures How Stupid You Are

Right now, it is 93 degrees in Central Park, according to the National Weather Service. It is on its way up to an expected high of 99 degrees, which is a brutal, sweltering temperature—the crest of a severe summer heat wave.

Or, according to Weather.com, New York City is 96 degrees, and "feels like 105." Presumably they're cherry-picking the 96 reading from some weather station more heavily paved and sun-blasted than the official Central Park site. The 105 part, though, is your "heat index" reading, which is the number weather forecasters use when they want to lie about the actual heat.

It does not feel like 105 degrees outside. In the entire recorded weather history of New York City, it has only once been more than 105 degrees in July: July 9, 1936. The record for this date, July 19, is 102 degrees.

I would say "a mere 102 degrees," except for the fact that 102 degrees Fahreheit is hot as blazes. As is 99 degrees. As is 93 degrees. It is summertime, and the normal extremes of summertime in the city are miserably hot. If the weatherperson tells you it's 93 degrees, you should understand that the temperatures in the hot spots—the subway platform, open stretches of asphalt—are going to be even higher than that. It's a hot, hot day!

But it is not 105 degrees, or 108 degrees, or whatever ridiculous fiction the weatherpersons are choosing to jabber about. Like "wind chill," those are fraudulent numbers designed to hype the ordinary unpleasantness into something apocalyptic-sounding. A windy 30-degree winter day doesn't feel like 15 degrees; it feels like 30 degrees in winter. (A 30-degree winter day with no wind is a bizarre anomaly, and feels strangely warm.)

The East Coast is humid. Manhattan is surrounded by rivers. A hot day with a temperature of 93 will be humid, and the humidity will be unpleasant, and it will feel exactly the way any sane person would expect a 93-degree day to feel. Gross and suffocating. And normal.

Tom Scocca is the weather reviewer for The Awl.

[Photo via Getty]