- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

The oppressive air lends itself to a cacophony of dire warnings, as meteorological events often do in a city that likes to think of weather in apocalyptic terms.

Whether it is a one-flake blizzard in the winter or a triple-digit reading of the thermometer in the summer, we Washingtonians treat each development with a massive dose of fear.

One of the great mysteries of the new millennium is how our ancestors beat back these meteorological ordeals without a series of safety tips to guide them through it, such as: Stay hydrated.

Here is how it probably worked back in the day: Someone became thirsty and, almost without thinking, the person reached for a glass of water.

Nowadays, it does not work that way.

Nowadays, people apparently become thirsty and do not have the faintest notion of how to resolve this basic bodily need, which is why “staying hydrated” has come to be the catchphrase of the week.

Obviously, there are other people besides Nicole Richie who do not know how to interpret the cues from their body. They have to turn on the television to see what the experts are saying.

And the experts are saying this: If you are thirsty, reach for a glass from your kitchen cabinet, turn on the tap water while placing the glass under the faucet, and then put the glass to your lips and drink from it. And, please, don’t forget to swallow. You could choke to death if you forget to swallow.

As you know, the home can be an incredibly dangerous place, whether accidental death occurs because of a chicken bone lodged in the throat or because a mishandling of the hair dryer results in it falling into a tubful of water with you in it.

People can be funny. Take the thirtysomething woman in a short dress jogging down the middle of a road at the hottest time of the day this week. Three explanations immediately popped into mind: She either was the most dedicated jogger in America, a victim of heatstroke or someone with a serious issue, or all three.

At least she was attired in loose-fitting clothing, no doubt because of the helpful admonishments of experts, who deserve a commission from local retailers, if they are not receiving one already.

If it weren’t for this advice, you suspect more people would be inclined to wear their brand-name sweaters to brave the heat.

People endure all kinds of misery in pursuit of fashion, not the least of whom are those women one misstep away from a broken ankle as they teeter along city streets in four-inch stilettos.

It is not just the heat, of course. It is not even just the humidity. It is the heat index, which heightens the sense of misery.

However hot you think it is, it is actually much, much worse.

The excessive heat is expected to stay in our region until tomorrow, which means we are certain to be inundated with more warnings, safety tips and anecdotes detailing our grit in the jaws of considerable adversity.

There is an element of redundancy to it, but that is how we do weather in these parts. We talk ourselves through it. We wallow in it.

This is the Washington drill of August. We turn the calendar page and discover that inferno season is upon us.

The heat blasts onto your skin and leaves you a dripping mess. And that is in the first minute of being outside. By the second minute, you feel as if you have just climbed the highest mountain.

If it helps in this stifling period, soon enough there will be a nip in the air and a plaintive plea across the city to dress warmly and buy groceries.

The department stores probably will be putting up Christmas lights in the next week or so.

Until then, remember to stay hydrated.

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