Slate.com's David Sessions picked today of all days to type out a little piece called "How Hot Is Iraq?: Why does everyone think it's 130 degrees?" The apparent impetus for this is a McCain speech, in which the Senator referred to "U.S. soldiers...carrying 40 pounds of body armor in 130-degree temperatures" -- something which Sessions absolutely must disprove.
So, he sets out to do so - and reinforces the fact that booksmarts are only applicable, well, inside.
Run a quick Google News search, and you'll find numerous references to Iraq's sweltering "130-degree" weather. It's in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Providence Journal, the Tucson Citizen, Wired, and even on military blogs. But according to this government Web site, the highest temperature ever recorded in Asia is 124 degrees—in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. So, how hot does it really get in Iraq?Okay, to that last sentence: someone has clearly never lived near the desert, nor has said someone paid attention to the history of civilization whatsoever.
The temperature never breaks 130 degrees, according to official climate records. A 2007 Air Force Weather Agency report on Iraq's summer weather also marks the record at 124 degrees, with mean highs for July and August at 110 degrees. And Iraq is always dry, so the heat index won't be much higher than the actual temperature.
What am I getting at with that last? Well, you see, throughout the history of civilization, cities have popped up primarily in two areas: (1) on trading routes, and (2) ON RIVERS. Take a look at the map of Iraq at right (click for full size). Notice something? That's right -- almost every major city is on a river. I'm currently in Samarra (just above Baghdad, in the eastern Tigris River Valley), which is on the River -- and guess what? It's humid as crap here! (So much for "Iraq is always dry, so the heat index won't be much higher than the actual temperature.") Not only that, but our thermometers (which measure temperature, not heat index) regularly read into the 110s and 120s -- and the temperature is cooler now than it was during July and August.
But Sessions has a reason for that (including why it is, of course, incorrect):
Then why do so many people talk like 130-degree temperatures are a daily occurrence in Iraq? Bad equipment, for one thing. Soldiers and travelers often measure the temperature with personal thermometers, which tend to give inaccurate readings. Command posts sometimes place thermometers on their outside walls or other locations within their encampments, but these thermometers are also cheap and unscientific; one solider described them as the kind of thing you'd pick up from Wal-Mart or see in someone's garden.Okay, point there -- it is, in fact, a plastic Wal-Mart style analog thermometer, and it is nailed to the outside of the Patrol Base here (albeit in a breezeway -- something which matters if you read the next paragraph).
But even a perfectly functioning thermometer, if placed on a solid surface, is likely to deliver higher readings than one set up in an open, breezy area. In general, a solid object absorbs more heat than an equivalent volume of air and can rise to a higher temperature given the same amount of sunlight. An instrument placed on sand or concrete will absorb heat from that surface—obscuring (and inflating) the actual air temperature. So, depending on where it's sitting, a surface thermometer can be off by more than 10 degrees. That's why professional meteorologists prefer to measure the temperature in a ventilated location, and never set up their instruments on heat-conducting surfaces like sand, concrete, or asphalt.(Emphasis added) And here's where Captain Ivory Tower loses his way. Guess what, Mr. Sessions?
A soldier in 40-50 lbs of armor AND ammo AND long sleeves and pants AND helmet AND gloves AND knee pads AND boots who is carrying a rifle AND carrying 10 lbs of water IS "a solid object." Furthermore, said soldier DOES operate on "heat-conducting surfaces like sand, concrete, or asphalt," NOT "in a ventilated location" -- oh, and is either standing or moving while doing so, as well.
The effective temperature to a soldier here is much more like 145-150 degrees during the peak of summer -- not 130 or 124.
Feel free to leave your Ivory Library and actually come check it out some time, David Sessions.
Jeff Emanuel, a special operations veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is a columnist and a director of conservative weblog RedState.com. He is currently embedded with the U.S. military on the front lines in Iraq, and his reports, which are 100% funded by reader donations, can be seen here.
- At 1:18 PM, said...
I'd love to know why on earth Mr. Sessions thinks that his argument about the temperature and "dryness" in Iraq makes sense at all when he ISN'T THERE. Furthermore, why is this a topic to delve into? It's HOT and HUMID there Mr. Session. Period.
- At 7:51 AM, Bill said...
Gee, I read Session's comments and I don't understand the vituperation.
1. People do exaggerate the heat. I live in Dubai and we do it too.
2. It isn't humid, there just isn't enough water in the rivers to change the relative humidity much unless you stand right next to a body of water.
3. That being said, if you wear all the body armor that our troops do
- At 8:14 AM, Joan of Argghh! said...
I'll bet Mr. Sessions stays out of the kitchen, as well.
- At 8:15 AM, Joan of Argghh! said...
I'll bet Mr. Sessions stays out of the kitchen, as well.
- At 8:27 AM, said...
Could we get Mr. Sessions to expand his logic to global warming?
- At 8:32 AM, said...
I'm not really sure what his point is. Is he trying to prove that it isn't really that hot for the soldiers in Iraq? Kinda like that moron who stated that we had "obscene" amenities while in Iraq. Sessions wouldn't last 5 minutes in Baghdad with all the gear we had to wear.
To be honest, most folks believe that Kuwait is a bit hotter, especially when transiting through during the summer months. And Riyadh is even hotter. When I was stationed at USMTM, 130+ degrees was common. But then again, I wasn't wearing much more than DCUs then.
Sessions needs to ask soldiers for proof; there should be hundreds of soldiers willing to send him a digital photo of thermometers showing 130+ degrees.
- At 8:36 AM, said...
I was in Baghdad for a week, in August, a few years ago. Man, it was HOT! Walking along the sidewalk, if a bus went by it would stir up the air and whoosh it around your face, making it so hot it was almost painful. You had to turn away. At night we slept on the roof on wooden beds with 'string' mattresses and no blankets. It was hard to sleep because it was still so hot (in the 90s and 80s). We were drenched with sweat. I'm sure Mr Sessions is just part of the anti-military, anti-Bush left-liberal coterie that wants to diminish any effort, still less any success of our remarkable military in Iraq by making the ordeal seem less arduous than it is. Screw him.
- At 8:45 AM, said...
Bill said "It isn't humid, there just isn't enough water in the rivers to change the relative humidity much unless you stand right next to a body of water."
Not true. I've been stationed in Baghdad, and it's not just the river, it's the thousands of acres of irrigated land that also adds to the humidity. The palm groves around Baghdad stretch for miles, and each grove is flood irrigated. The humidity comes from thousands of acres of flood irrigated land, as well as the transpiration of millions of date palms, not just the river.
- At 9:05 AM, said...
My husband is in Iraq right now. This time he is lucky enough to have air conditioning.
Last time he was in Iraq he woke-up every hour or so to drink water. A replacement soldier died in his sleep from dehydration. He'd been in country less than 2 days and hadn't learned to wake himself up to drink.
I would say that's pretty hot to die in your sleep from not drinking water.
- At 9:12 AM, said...
While I'm around...
Kaymad's story is incorrect. (No offense) You can't die of dehydration that quickly - takes days, even here.
- At 9:13 AM, said...
Granted all these things and heat of 125-140 for a soldier with all his gear, how high a temp can the human body withstand before it starts to break down biochemically? I thought proteins denature at temperatures around that range.
- At 9:26 AM, SGT Ted said...
When I was in Karbala the summer of 2003, the ground temps regularly got to 150+. If you were dumb enough to not wear long sleeves, you risked getting burns from hot metal. Our thermometer was the kind used by the NBC NCO and medics to accurately measure air temp. Ours was always pegged out at max temp (120) by 1000 AM.
It got so hot that some of our people got 2nd degree burns on their torso from wearing their body armor up in the gun turret. Add the humidity that comes from all the farm acreage...
Ambient air temp doesn't mean squat when you live on the ground or ride in vehicles. David Sessions is a tool.
- At 9:56 AM, said...
- At 10:00 AM, Shannon Love said...
I would imagine that a lot of exaggeration goes on. Everyone who lives in an extreme or novel (to them) climate tells tall stories about the degree of extremity. Perhaps Sessions simply objects to this injection of this casual exaggeration into news story and the common perception of life in Iraq.
However, from living in the American southwest where summer temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees fahrenheit(38 C) I can testify that local micro-climates occur wherein the temperature can exceed the ambient temperature by 20-30 degrees F.
Anyone who has ever walked across a large empty parking lot in high summer can attest to the great elevation in objective and subject temperature that occurs.
- At 10:09 AM, pst314 said...
"but these thermometers are also cheap and unscientific"
As opposed to all those expensive thermometers which climatologists have scientifically sited in asphalt parking lots, next to air conditioners, and so on?
- At 10:24 AM, Forceleader999 said...
When I was in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait nearly a decade ago, we had temperatures in the 140's, as measured by our base meteorological station, which fed data to Command for Flight Ops, so I'm sure it was inaccurate.
David Sessions needs to get a fix for that bad case of Cranial-Rectal Inversion he's suffering, and fast.
- At 10:59 AM, said...
Why the hell does it even matter? I've been in Phoenix when it was 117F and it was brutal. And, I was unencumbered in shorts and a T!
- At 11:05 AM, Milton Stanley said...
My understanding is that
meteorological temperatures are measured in the shade. It seems reasonable that 110 or 120 in the shade could easily be 130 in the sunlight.
- At 12:32 PM, said...
Of course Atlanta regularly gets 90 degrees and 90%RH, as do Chicago and New York.
The temperature has to be measured in shade. Even NYC has hit 139, in the sun, over blacktop. I'm sure, in the sun, on hard ground, it feels like 150 or more. But I'm sure it isn't.
- At 1:06 PM, rastajenk said...
And the official death toll at the hands of Americans in Iraq now tops one million! Investigate that one, Mr. Sessions.
- At 1:27 PM, said...
Greyhawk, are you saying Private Matthew Bush didn't die of dehydration in his sleep?? That may be news to him and his family.
- At 2:51 PM, Craig said...
David would be interested to know that "professional meteorologists" don't always place their instruments in proper locations:
- At 12:22 AM, Brian said...
Greyhawk, given the information available, is correct.
Heat stroke is not dehydration. Dehydration as a cause of death takes days, sometimes a week, depending upon the condition of the victim and the surrounding environment.
Being severely "dehydrated" however, given certain circumstances, can result in death, especially in a hyperthermic for which one is unconditioned.
BTW, 130 degrees ain't sh*t. I've lived two years in Bahrain (a flat brown rock island off the coast of Saudi Arabia), Qatar, and U.A.E. and spent a fair amount of time on the USS Nashville off the coast of Somalia. If it's 130 degrees where you're standing, IT"S 130 DEGREES!
If you're in a concrete bunker with no ventilation and a tar roof, believe me, it's more than 130 degrees in there.
Ever get into a black car with the windows rolled up during the middle of the summer.
That's Iraq 6-9 months of the year.
It gets a little easier to handle once you've been acclimated and stay hydrated.
That is unless you're humping around 30-40 lbs of body armor and other assorted gear.
- At 12:48 AM, Mike O said...
What do you expect from Slate? Their primary author of the 'War Stories' is a fellow named Fred Kaplan; never served, never been in a live war zone from anything I can find of his extensive web presence. An excellent writer and researcher, but- as you say- all library expertise. I wouldn't have the gall to write under such a title with that background, myself.
P.S. I've known Fred since high school. His predictions started with the movie 'Patton' stood no chance for an Oscar and have been going downhill since.