Dog days of summer in the stars, or not

By Susan Armstrong | July 1, 2024

Susan Armstrong

During the summer, when I was a young girl, I peddled my bicycle to the city pool every day to escape the sweltering heat of the Kansas sun. From mid-July through the end of August, the world moved in slow motion. I would lie on my back and watch the clouds drift overhead or bury my nose in a book beneath the shade of a cottonwood tree. These were the dog days of summer.

A high-powered water cooler hung in our kitchen window, and it was my job to douse it with water from the hose every hour or two so the motor could blow the wet air into our house. I loved that job because I sprayed myself with the cold water at the same time. No one in our neighborhood had real air conditioning back then. So, when the dog days arrived, we knew it. I guessed my mother called them dog days because our dog rested in the sun all day, and we did the same.

On the hottest afternoons, my mother made Kool-Aid popsicles in our ice trays. She set a sprinkler in the yard and watched from the front porch while my sisters and I raced barefoot across the grass to splash through the water. 

It wasn’t until I grew older that I learned dog days weren’t really about dogs, but about the stars. During Greek and Roman times, when the rising of the Dog Star, Sirius, coincided with the sun rising in the Northern hemisphere in mid-July, it was called dog days. They believed heat from the two stars combined to make the hottest time of the year.

National Geographic claims the Greeks got it wrong, because the dates the stars coincide will depend on your latitude and because stars in Earth’s night sky shift independently of our calendar seasons. And according to the Farmers’ Almanac, the heat isn’t connected to the stars, but to the tilt of the Earth during the summer, which causes the sun’s rays to hit at a more direct angle, thus creating longer, hotter days.

Whatever the cause, the result is the same: from around July 3-August 11, the dog days of summer will bring hot, sultry weather to Kansas. Just like my mother always said.

You can count on it.

PS: You can also count on The Active Age to arrive in your mailbox every month. If you have donated to help cover our postage costs, thank you! If not, we hope you’ll consider it.

Susan Armstrong is vice president of The Active Age’s board of directors.