Story 14 Heatin’ Up
Thermo spent much of the 1970s diligently working on the special project Dr. Key had asked of him. The little thermometer took temperature readings through the hillsides and plains of North America, in the tropical jungles and mountains of South America, on the beautiful beaches of the Mediterranean and in the deserts of Africa. From the equatorial oceans to both poles and back, he measured temperatures over every surface of the planet, and when he finished it all, he started over again. It was a sightseer’s dream come true, and not only did he enjoy the journey, he received constant encouragement from his maker, Dr. Key.
“You’re doing a wonderful job, Thermo,” said Dr. Key over the transmitter that the good doctor had installed in Thermo’s head. The invention allowed Dr. Key to communicate with Thermo from his cave on Mauna Loa, no matter where Thermo was in the world.
One day, as Thermo was, for the 190th time, taking temperatures on the north coast of France, Dr. Key’s voice sounded in his head. “Notice anything different this time, Thermo?”
“What do you mean, Father?” asked Thermo, as he recorded his reading.
“You’ve been taking temperatures at that location long enough to realize that the numbers are gradually going up,” the doctor pointed out.
“You’re right,” replied Thermo. “I have seen the same thing in many locations throughout the world. The temperatures I’ve recorded are sometimes a little higher and sometimes a little lower. But aside from a few cold winters, the overall trend has been upward.”
The trend Thermo noticed was paltry, however, compared to what he and Dr. Key found the summer of 1980. May of that year gave Thermo his hottest monthly readings so far in the heartland of the United States. “100 degrees Fahrenheit in Dallas? In May?” Thermo questioned whether the thermometer in his chest was working properly, but everything checked out.
From Texas to the Midwest, Carbo’s readings were often in the triple digits. “It’s a heat wave like I’ve never seen!” he told Dr. Key over his built-in microphone one day. Dr. Key agreed, “Thermo, don’t be surprised by what you see. Unless we do something, this could someday become a lot more common.”
Thermo couldn’t bear the thought of those kinds of temperatures becoming the norm. He soon discovered that his measurements were only part of the story though. As he flew over farms and fields, he saw crops shriveling not only from the extreme heat, but also from a lack of rain. The devastation sometimes went as far as his camera eyes could see.
Thermo called Dr. Key through the two-way radio. “This is awful! What’s the cause of all this?”
“You know those air pressure readings you’ve been taking?” Dr. Key asked Thermo.
“Yes, they have been very high,” observed Thermo.
“High pressure means that the air is sinking,” explained Dr. Key. “As air sinks, it compresses.”
“What do you mean, compresses?” Thermo asked.
“You know before I ride my bicycle around Mauna Loa I always pump up the tires?” Dr. Key asked.
“Yes,” answered Thermo, but still not understanding.
Dr. Key continued. “When I push down on the bicycle pump, the air inside the pump compresses. Have you ever felt the pump while I’m using it?”
“Yes,” answered Thermo. “It gets hot!”
“Exactly,” affirmed Dr. Key. “That’s what is happening in the atmosphere. As air sinks and compresses over the Midwest and Southern Plains, temperatures in the area get hotter.”
“And the sinking air prevents clouds from forming, so we don’t get any rain either,” Thermo deduced, now getting the connection.
“On the nose, Thermo!” Dr. Key confirmed.
Just then, a strange creature suddenly materialized not ten feet away from Thermo. It looked like a huge brown bag floating in the air. From the front it was wide and tall, almost like a parachute, but from the side, it was as thin as a bat’s wing. The same color as the parched dusty fields below, the figure wasn’t any sort of cloud he had ever seen. In fact, the sky was completely void of clouds. As Thermo watched, buzzards circled around the creature. Since Thermo was the only object besides the sun in the bright boiling sky, the brown stranger noticed the little thermometer right away.
“Hello. What are you?” she asked politely. “Are you a toy airplane?”
“No, I’m Thermo. I’m a thermometer.”
“Very pleased to meet you, Thermo. “I’m Heatia and I make heat waves and droughts. See those scorched and withered crops down there? I did that,” Heatia proclaimed proudly.
“Well you should be ashamed of yourself,” scolded Thermo. “The humans need those crops! Without them their children will grow hungry. They are my friends!” As he spoke, Thermo’s thermometer turned an even brighter shade of red.
“I really don’t care,” said Heatia nonchalantly. “My friends are the buzzards, which feed off the fruits of my labor. The hotter and drier I can make it, the better it is for them, and the better I like it. So if you don’t mind, I’d like for you to take a hike out of here please. I’m planning on being around a long time, thanks to my new friend Carbo.”
“Carbo?” Thermo repeated. Where had he heard that name before? Then he remembered; Phoon had said the name too. So, who was Carbo and what did Phoon and Heatia have to do with him, or her, or it? Those were the questions that filled Thermo’s mind as he jetted away.
By August, the entire United States was baking under the heat wave. Across Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, Thermo measured temperatures that crept up near 120 degrees F. In the southeastern U.S. Thermo took a reading of 105 degrees in Atlanta. “When will it end?” he wondered
What Thermo didn’t know is that another monster under Carbo’s influence was preparing to unleash another kind of fury. Phoon, empowered by Carbo’s extra heat-producing power, was building a strong hurricane named Allen in the western Caribbean. By the time Allen reached the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, Phoon had increased Allen’s winds to as high as 190 miles per hour.
Thermo radioed to Dr. Key back in Hawaii. “We have a serious situation developing here. But I have a plan, and I hope you’ll allow me to carry it out.”
“Tell me, son,” replied Dr. Key. “Maybe I will.”
Thermo related his idea to Dr. Key. When he was through with the explanation, Dr. Key said, “I think it will work, Thermo. Just be careful.”
“I will,” Thermo assured him, and went to work.
Thermo soared through the sky until he reached the southern Gulf of Mexico. There, on purpose, he flew casually by Phoon’s one big eye, jeering, “Hey there, you big old wet rag! Bet you can’t catch me!”
“We’ll see about that, you little wimp,” boomed the hurricane, and just as Thermo had hoped, Phoon took the bait. The gigantic storm gave chase, though being of incredible size, its pace was slow. Not for Thermo, though. He buzzed around Phoon’s tall columns of thunderstorms, and even flew in and out of its eye a couple of times.
“Oh, what big eyes you have!” taunted Thermo. “Oh, I mean eye. Singular.”
This only angered Phoon all the more, and the hurricane chased Thermo westward into the Bay of Campeche and toward Texas. Soon, Phoon was lashing out at south Texas, and in doing so, beginning to break down Heatia’s dome of high air pressure.
Heatia was startled at the dramatic change of weather, but wasn’t giving up easily. The heat monster fought back with her dry air and managed to steer Phoon west and south of the Texas border. The battle raged on for more than a day, and when it was over, both sides had sustained injury. Heatia had weakened Phoon’s power during its landfall in Mexico, and Phoon had seen to it that Heatia’s days of producing drought and scorching temperatures were numbered.
When Thermo reported the outcome to Dr. Key, he was pleased. “Well done, boy! You are learning how the atmosphere works. Though you and I might have an influence in the character of the battle, nature determines the ultimate outcome.”
Even as Dr. Key spoke, however, battles were brewing that could prove to be nearly insurmountable for both man and machine.
In the real world, two of the reasons this author became a meteorologist were the heat wave of 1980 and seeing monstrous Hurricane Allen close in on the Gulf of Mexico. One has to ask the question whether it was a coincidence that one of the worst heat waves since the 1930s met up that summer with one of the strongest hurricanes on record in the Gulf. Allen reached Category 5 intensity, becoming the earliest Category 5 storm ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin at that time. It was also the only hurricane in the Atlantic basin to record sustained winds of 190 mph. In addition, Allen’s legacy included squelching the heat and high pressure in south Texas that August.
Was global warming already producing both a nearly unprecedented heat wave and a hurricane as early as 1980? Clearly, the atmosphere from Mexico and the Caribbean northward into the U.S. was very warm that summer. More recently, record heat in the summer (and winter in the southern hemisphere) was present from Australia northward into China in 2013. The western Pacific saw numerous strong Typhoons, including the record-setting Typhoon Haiyun, which crossed over the central Philippines during the fall later that year. Was it just another coincidence, or was it something else?
The Climate Guy
The text and artwork are copyright by Guy Walton. I would like to get this book published. Please drop me a note if you are willing to help.
To see the rest of the World of Thermo stories click: http://www.guyonclimate.com/category/worldofthermo/