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Hot under the collar about “hot temperatures”

December 17, 2009 Filed under Blog, Potpourri, Writing 

The December 2009 issue of the journal Weather published by the Royal Meteorological Society has a letter by David Pedgley, referring to a 2005 letter by Malcolm Walker, which refers to an earlier letter by John Cook. At issue? “Hot temperatures.”

Read an excerpt from Pedgley’s letter:

Temperature is a measure of the heat content of a body – it is a number on an agreed scale. A number cannot be warm/hot. Warm air has a high temperature, not a warm temperature. Similarly, moist air has a high humidity, not a moist humidity. A fast car has a high speed, not a fast speed. Has elementary physics been forgotten, even by some meteorologists?

Walker added that “freezing temperatures” should also be added to that list.

This topic is also discussed in Eloquent Science on page 363 in Appendix B, available online for free.

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One Response to “Hot under the collar about “hot temperatures””
  1. Curtis Wood says:

    Although I am normally a pedant myself and can see the point that is being made here, there is a pragmatic consideration. Very often in meteorology we’re interested in how things vary with height; and so talking about things being high/low can be susceptible to ambiguity (“higher temperatures” might mean (i) temperature at a higher altitude or (ii) temperatures with a higher number on the thermometer). Many work-arounds results in wordy, inelegant or ambiguous sentences (e.g. one might consider saying “warm conditions” or “warm atmosphere”). In summary, I often find myself settling for “warm temperatures”, even though I know it is not right…

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