August 7, 2010 9:21:00 PM
Monday afternoon I felt like Harry Dean Stanton in the movie "Paris, Texas."
Our daughter had driven me in her unairconditioned pickup out the frontage road between West Lowndes School and the airport. It was mid-afternoon, the hottest time of the day; I was without sunglasses, and we were stopped by road construction, forced to wait next to a strip of fresh pressed asphalt.
Finally, after we got the go-ahead, a cloud passed overhead, and it seemed we might survive.
I don''t know that I''ve ever felt heat of that intensity in these parts. The high that day was 105 and depending on how you calculate it, the heat index in direct sun would have been over 130.
The heat index, like a wind chill factor in cold weather, attempts to determine what the heat feels like on human skin. In hot weather our bodies are cooled by the evaporation of sweat. High humidity retards that evaporation -- higher the humidity, higher the heat index.
So 105 in the arid Texas wastelands would not have felt nearly as hot to Harry Dean as it did for Tanner and me Monday. If you''ve been in the West, you know what I mean; the cold out there isn''t as cold, nor is the hot as hot as it is here in the humid South.
Amazing all the development out by the airport: Paccar, Stark Aerospace, American Eurocopter, Aurora Flight Sciences and Severstal. Ten years ago it was virtually nothing but pasture and woodlands.
Wednesday a group of community and state leaders gathered on the grounds of the Severstal mill for a groundbreaking for Mississippi Steel Processing and New Process Steel.
The event was held in a white tent, the type you see at high-toned wedding receptions. Someone said the portable air conditioning unit on hand was 10 tons. If so, 30 would have been about right.
A few suits in the standing-room-only crowd, but mostly polo shirts. Gov. Haley Barbour, in a yellow polo, seemed to enjoy himself in front of a friendly and appreciative audience. Many, Marty Wiseman at MSU Stennis Center among them, are saying Barbour stands a very good chance to be the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012.
All the speakers got laughs about the weather. Rich Merlo, who lives in Chicago, may have gotten the biggest. Merlo is the business partner of Chip Gerber, president of Mississippi Steel Processing.
"Last winter my associates kept trying to get me down here," Merlo said. "I''d ask them why. They''d say over and over, ''The weather, the weather. The weather is great down here.''" No punch line needed.
Wednesday''s event was a kind of community sweat lodge.
As the governor said, "Job creation is a team sport and you shouldn''t ever forget it."
It was nice to be part of the home team''s victory celebration.
Afterward I told Lowndes Supervisor Harry Sanders I thought he had spoken with eloquence. It was the wrong word, and Harry, as he is wont to do, called me on it. "I may be many things, but I''m not eloquent," he said.
OK, "audacious." Harry is nothing if not audacious and he was that Wednesday, giving credit to unheralded officials who have worked behind the scenes to make Wednesday possible.
Though hardly unheralded, Sanders praised Joe Max Higgins for being the catalyst for our recent economic successes.
Until Joe came along, we were the little engine that couldn''t.
Joe Max changed the way we think about ourselves, Sanders said.
"Joe Max, I appreciate it. There are a lot of people who have fussed at you and your methods, (but) I don''t care," Sanders said.
As for the weather, WCBI meteorologist Courtney Cooper says, while this may be hot, 2007 was the heat wave to remember.
In August of that year 26 of the 31 days were above average and 14 of those days were at or above 100 degrees, she said. Average for July and August is 93 degrees.
Cooper said the recent extremes are due to a stalled subtropical high-pressure ridge overhead. With the high pressure you have southerly winds that bring moisture from the Gulf which increases the humidity and heat index. She says the stagnant air has not allowed much cooling at night and so the unrelenting heat. WCBI is predicting triple digits again by midweek.
Asked to explain the glorious sunsets we''ve had throughout July, Cooper said the scattered afternoon thunderstorms are responsible, serving as a prism for the slanting rays of the setting sun.
Love it or hate it, there''s nothing that looks or feels quite like summer in the South.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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