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Feeling The Heat

Fire-walking, the hydrogen bomb, Death Valley, and more. We’ll go deep on the essence of heat.



Heat can sound like paradise.  A summer breeze.  A tropical vacation.

And heat can sound like hell.  Death Valley.  Heat stroke.  Raging fire.

We crave it when we’re cold.  We fear it when it’s too much.  We can scarcely imagine its extremes, in a nuclear blast or the origins of the universe.  The Big Bang.

Writer Bill Streever has circled the world on the trail of heat.  Its history, its extremes, its nature, its effects.  Humans have built life around it, and have fled its wrath.

This hour, On Point:  adventures in the realm of heat.

-Tom Ashbrook


Bill Streever, author of “Heat: Adventures in the World’s Fiery Places.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times  “After a yearlong investigation by a team of climate scientists, the World Meteorological Organization, the climate agency of the United Nations, announced this fall that it was throwing out a reading of 136.4 degrees claimed by the city of Al Aziziyah on Sept. 13, 1922.”

National Geographic “Temperatures across the continental United States soared in 2012 to an all-time high, making last year the warmest year on record for the country by a wide margin, scientists say.”

Excerpt from “Heat”


Turn on the Heat — The Charleston Chasers

Volcano — The Presidents of the United States of America

Fire — Ingrid Michaelson

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  • 1Brett1

    Maybe this is God’s way of punishing us for neo-conservatism? I mean it’s like Gregg says when he responds to Ed: I can’t say that God is NOT punishing us for the rise neo-conservatism, because I don’t know; none of us knows. Maybe we should rid ourselves of neo-conservatism just to be on the safe side? 

    • JobExperience

      Gary Null had a really good segment on solar ejections and the Carrington Effect yesterday. (Find at WBAI archives) Any day the Sun could cook all our satellites and power stations, leaving nuclear fuel rod storage to melt down like Fukishima #4. Goodbye handheld gadgets! Pharmacist and health guru Null wants to see more nuke plant safeguards (especially at Indian Point near NYC) and no new nuke plants. There is nothing more insidious  than invisible radiation cooking us alive. Space  station inhabitants age ten years in 5 months… big sacrifice for a scenic view. Solar flaring could take out the remaining ozone shield and shower us with blistering UV. The Sun is at its most volatile in 10K years says Gary Null’s geophysicist guest.

      Climate change deniers (You’re so communitarian!) need to watch Scott Pelley’s report on increasingly strange weather tonight on CBS Evening News. Maybe MSM is conceding reality. And when they do it’s your opportunity to try the same thing at home.

    • Gregg Smith

      I would never suggest doing away with or ignoring Ed. Just saying’.

      • 1Brett1

        Thanks for missing my point

  • Gregg Smith

    2012 was not the hottest year on record.

    • nj_v2

      Greggg’s trolling continues to devolve.


      “According to NOAA scientists, the average temperature for the contiguous U.S. for 2012 was 55.3°F, which was 3.2°F above the 20th century average and 1.0°F above the previous record from 1998. The year consisted of the fourth warmest winter, a record warm spring, the second warmest summer, and a warmer-than-average autumn. Although the last four months of 2012 did not bring the same unusual warmth as the first 8 months of the year, the September through December temperatures were warm enough for 2012 to remain the record warmest year, by a wide margin.”

      • WorriedfortheCountry

         ‘contiguous US’ is vastly different than global climate.  So no, Gregg IS accurate in a global context.

        • Gregg Smith

          They’ve added numerous measuring stations since records were set in the 30′s. If the same measurement are used, 2012 doesn’t crack the top 10.

          NOAA also contradicts its own numbers when you do the month to month math. People want it to be the record very badly. They’re invested.

          • nj_v2

            Greggg pretends to be a scientist. How cute.

          • Gregg Smith

            It’s just a lie, that’s all. I know you want to believe it. More power to ya’.

          • http://hammernews.com/ hammermann

             sorry, deniers are morons who think they are free-thinkers + clever, but within 10 years, they will be considered mass murderers…

        • nj_v2

          But, of course, no one is claiming the worldwide temperature last year was the highest, but thanks for playing.

          • harverdphd

             You lost this one…just accept it.

          • nj_v2

            It’s like a denialist clown car. Just mention the topic, and they come pouring out.

  • carrieB jacobson

    Why is it that in the winter, inside, 64 degrees with the heat on is too hot, and in the summer, inside with the air conditioning, 64 degrees is WAY too cold??? ps we moved from Ct to the eastern shore of VA, in part because CT was just getting too darn cold

  • Harper Wilkins

    I would be satisfied if it were 100 degrees everyday!  If only there were a way to only avoid the downsides of global warming and keep the HEAT!!!

  • ToyYoda

    Please ask your guest to comment on the latest connections between heat and information theory.


  • nj_v2

    A useful analogy in understanding global climate change is the comparison to mammalian body temperature. It doesn’t take much of a change to induce dramatic changes in the system.

  • Jasoturner

    Ah, we are taught the energy and mass are conserved.  Yet we know that exothermic chemical reactions take place.  Meaning that mixing two compounds will result in the release of heat.  I have always assumed that this must mean that an almost immeasurably small quantity of mass must be converted to energy in order for these reactions to work.  Can you ask you guest if this is indeed the case?

  • Flowen

    Why do hot water pipes freeze faster than cold water pipes?

    • nj_v2
      • Flowen

        I looked at that article, and it mostly tries to explain why hot water freezes faster than cold water.

        In my experience as a landlord, I have often seen this phenomena in hot and cold pipes, where evaporation can play no role (the primary mechanism used to explain the phenomena in the SA article).

        I suspect there is something more related to the momentum of energy flow at work here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sonia.c.shapiro Sonia Caroline Shapiro

    In the late eighties I experienced a heat wave in Chicago. Many Days in a row above 110. Usually I go grey-green at 85. But when it cooled down to 98 I was COMFORTABLE.

  • Jasoturner

    Of course, we also recall that heat engines require a high and a low temperature sink in order to do useful work.  Perhaps there is a philosophical nugget there:  A single temperature will not do.  We must have a diversity for there to be action, and life.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rickevans033050 Rick Evans

    Correction: Brookhaven is East of New York City on Long Island. 

  • ToyYoda

    The most vivid experience I’ve ever had that connected heat, friction, and kinetic energy was when I was a kid.  I was in my Uncle’s workshop.  He just finished drilling into a block of wood and I was mesmerized by the drill bit slowing down.  I had the crazy idea to hold the drill bit in my finger to stop it from twisting.  In a second, I felt this searing pain on my fingers and moments later blisters formed.  Luckily I fully healed from that.

  • BlueNH

    Walking off a plane onto the tarmac in Hong Kong many years ago…it was about 100 degrees and sooooo humid. I lost my breath and felt nauseous.

    The heat knocks me out. I am not looking forward to a global warming future.

  • nj_v2

    I can imagine that the chemistry of cooking could provide enough material for its own book. What’s actually happening on the molecular level in foods that are cooked? What new compounds are being created? How do our bodies deal with these? How does heat affect nutrients? (Some are destroyed, or their forms are changed.)

  • Rex Henry

    I don’t like to sweat and I can always warm myself up so I’ll take the the cold.

  • http://www.fibrowitch.net Jan Dumas

    Well I did run a fever of 104 for about 9 hours, does that count?

  • Debi Milligan

    The hottest I’ve experienced was landing on the island of Crete 3 years ago in early August and climbing down the stairs to get off the airplane, the heat hit us like a brick wall.  It was 118 degrees.  It often gets up to 110 degrees in the summer on Crete.  I LOVE it.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/DZVSOFIB3XYASH6BCROHJDWJIQ Brian

    A group of us goes winter tent camping every year in mid February in the Cook Forest area (2 hours north of Pittsburgh).  We dress accordingly and have a large fire.  Some have heat in their tents; others don’t.  The beauty for me is that Mother Nature, due to the cold, is in your face.  The stars, as seen from the Appalachian Plateau, are plentiful and incredible.  I’d sooner move up to northern Canada than to southern Florida.  Brian from central Illinois.

  • Michael Manning

    Hot yoga at 115-120 for 90 minutes. Good for what ails you. I don’t know if I’ve been hotter. 

  • Robby Ackerman

    Just some nuggets from living three years in the Sahara Desert (Mauritania)  Dead reckoning across the desert in our Land Rover 110 (no AC) the ambient temp typically 125F we had to drive with the windows closed — otherwise it is like sitting in front of a hot air furnace blower — the LR has vents under the windshield and vents in the double roof for flow through of air.  If a flat tire we’d have to wait till the sun has set  to change it — sand temps would be 150 to 160 F — hot enough to scald your legs in knelling in the sand.  The Black steering wheel we could hold onto — it is shaded inside the car — while the white exterior could not be touched — too hot.  Black while it absorbs heat quicker, disapates it quicker.  White surfaces the opposite.  Hottest days were 132F and the AC in our home could be it to a comfortable 95 to 100F.


    Robby Ackerman

  • vsnqst

    I love the heat of a coal-fired 900 degree pizza oven, producing the most spectacular pies in 2 to 3 minutes. Verace Pizza Napoletana. The sacrament of pizza, like Holy Communion — OMG :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1121113860 Lisa Sankowski


  • Conor Doherty

    I remember seeing a question on the Nintendo Wii “Everybody Votes” channel asking ‘Do you prefer to be too hot or too cold?’ When you viewed the results by gender, men preferred or be too cold, women preferred to be too hot. When you viewed the results by region, people from warmer areas preferred to be too warm, people from cooler climates preferred to be too cold.  I wonder what the reason for this is and if there is a trend related to age… do we prefer the cold in our youth and heat as we grow old?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1121113860 Lisa Sankowski

    A few years ago someone gave me a gift certificate for a glassblowing
    class.  It was wonderful, but terrifying.  After a few hours braving the
    “glory hole” of molten glass, I had bright red hands and a new respect
    for glass artists! (I also have a very nice paperweight as a memento.)

  • Ray in VT

    I don’t know how hot it really got, but the hottest I’ve been was in a hay mow in August, stacking bales right up near the tin roof when it was about 98-100 outside.  It’s also pretty hot milking cows in an old fashioned tie stall barn under the same outdoor circumstances.  Cows throw a ton of heat, and you end up sweating buckets.

    • harverdphd

       Been there, Ray, sweatin’ like a stuck pig….and what smells better that a cow barn?

      • Ray in VT

        I don’t notice the barn smell, at least after the first 2 minutes or so, unless there’s one that’s sick or hasn’t cleaned properly, then they’re pretty rank.  My wife, who did not grow up on a farm, can’t tell the difference.  It’s all just one big stink to her.

  • artpostr

    In 1971, I spent 3 months crossing No. Africa in a VW van, almost a month in the Sahara Desert.  I remember 125F in the shade.  Dropping water on the seat of the car, it just steamed up and sizzled.  We kept our water bottles wrapped in cloth hanging from our side view mirrors and wet them so the condensation would “cool” them a little.  We were advised in case of a flat tire to dose ourselves with water and get under the van in the shade to wait for sunset. We drove early am and late pm and then slept in the van over the motor!  Very challenging for a 20 year old girl from Brooklyn but the most memorable trip of my life!

    Angela Petitto
    Saranac Lake, NY

    • Ray in VT

      Did that experience have any influence upon you now being in a place that routinely is one of the coldest places in the lower 48?

    • artpostr

      Not at all.  I’ve been here 20 years and am ready for another adventure probably someplace warmer this time like New Orleans.  What/when were you doing there for 3 years?

  • wyattoe

    I worked in a ship yard in the 70s bending
    2 inch thick steel plate for the curve of the ship’s bow. We heated the plates
    in a furnace until they were cherry red. The furnace was so hot it
    required a door to made of layers of steel, concrete, and a water cooling
    pocket within.

    The plates and furnace work area was so hot
    we had to wear special sliver reflective protective suits. The first day on the
    job to make a training safety point my mentor took off his cotton hat and threw
    it toward the furnace and I was shocked to see how quickly it burst into flames
    in mid air about half way through it trajectory.

  • harverdphd

    Stand by a coil of copper fresh off the hot mill at  Revere Copper in Rome, NY….warms the soul.

  • http://www.facebook.com/conal.cronin Conal Cronin

    I live in Dallas and do energy efficiency work. In the summer time outside temperatures reach 105+. Most of the work that I do requires being in an attic crawling in insulation and sealing the air leaks around ductwork. The average temperature of a attic in the summer time is around 140. The hottest attic I’ve been in is around 160. It sucks the air right out of your lungs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=759649168 Cynthia Lyn Montbleau-deMoss

    As a dressmaker and tailor I use heat to create new edges, flaten seams and smooth wrinkles. Wouldn’t it be great if it worked on skin wrinkles too!! Ha!

  • Lawrence Kelley

    Great program Tom! Focused on heat theory (thermal design) in college and now in my work. Shared your SoundCloud program with my LinkedIn+ network of colleagues and friends. Sincerely, – Larry / Clifton Park, New York

  • Mike Habberfield

     Just listened to this podcast… so glad that guy called in about entropy and information science. He was so spot on, and Tom’s astounded response was just perfect!

Aug 21, 2014
In this November 2012, file photo, posted on the website freejamesfoley.org, shows American journalist James Foley while covering the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. In a horrifying act of revenge for U.S. airstrikes in northern Iraq, militants with the Islamic State extremist group have beheaded Foley — and are threatening to kill another hostage, U.S. officials say. (AP)

An American is beheaded. We’ll look at the ferocity of ISIS, and what to do about it.

Aug 21, 2014
Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, works on a laptop before a meeting of the Seattle City Council, Monday, March 17, 2014, at City Hall in Seattle. (AP)

We’ll look at workers trying to live and make a living in the age of TaskRabbit and computer-driven work schedules.

Aug 20, 2014
In this Oct. 21, 2013 file photo, a monarch butterfly lands on a confetti lantana plant in San Antonio. A half-century ago Monarch butterflies, tired, hungry and bursting to lay eggs, found plenty of nourishment flying across Texas. Native white-flowering balls of antelope milkweed covered grasslands, growing alongside nectar-filled wildflowers. But now, these orange-and-black winged butterflies find mostly buildings, manicured lawns and toxic, pesticide-filled plants. (AP)

This year’s monarch butterfly migration is the smallest ever recorded. We’ll ask why. It’s a big story. Plus: how climate change is creating new hybridized species.

Aug 20, 2014
A man holds his hands up in the street after a standoff with police Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, during a protest for Michael Brown, who was killed by a police officer Aug. 9 in Ferguson, Mo. (AP)

A deep read on Ferguson, Missouri and what we’re seeing about race, class, hope and fear in America.

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