You can pretty much bet your life savings every summer that, when the mercury creeps above 100 degrees, some Las Vegan will tell another, "At least it's a dry heat."
Without fail, when the summer heat rolls into the valley, along with it comes the many ways locals try to express their displeasure. Maybe it's equating the heat outdoors with sticking one's head in a hot oven. Or blasting your face with a blow-dryer. And who hasn't said, or heard, that it's hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk?
Sounding a tune of misery during the summer is as natural to Las Vegans as hating the traffic on the Strip. And if you were in town last weekend, you know just how miserable it has been: 110-plus degrees. Occasional double-digit humidity. Cranky, irritable, sweaty people.
The only way to counter those challenges? Air conditioning and ice cream, of course. But few of us can lock ourselves away and wait for the heat to pass, so the next best thing is to build our endurance to it.
In an attempt to do just that, we decided to test out a few of these summer "myths" we've heard since our first summer in the desert. July 15 was a hot day with a high of 113. But was it hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk? And it definitely felt the way we imagine it feels inside a convection oven. So, using very unscientific methods, a mini-infrared thermometer and interviews with real experts, a reporter and photographer attempted to discover the answers to these questions, and more.
Along with the answers, we learned some important lessons about Las Vegas summers. First, always wear sunscreen if you're going to be outside for even a few minutes. Long sleeves and hats are good, too. Always carry water during the summer, but don't leave it in the car unless you want to make piping hot soup. A parasol in this heat might be a worthy investment. Also, if you purposely melt something in a vehicle, make sure you put a barrier between the melting item and your dash/seat/floorboard. Despite good intentions, even the silliest experiments can easily go awry.
1. It's hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.
Everyone wants to know the answer to this, and most people have already formed their opinions. Is it possible? In a word: No. Not on the sidewalk. Typically made of light-colored concrete, a sidewalk can't heat up to the temperature required to cook an egg: 158 degrees. "That's the temperature where protein is going to start denaturing," says Spencer Steinberg, chemistry professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Denaturing, he explains, is when "you destroy a protein's natural three-dimensional structure. That can be done by heat or chemically."
Using our mini-infrared thermometer, we measured the temperature of a sidewalk at 2 p.m. July 15. It was 147 degrees. The asphalt in a parking lot, though, was a lot hotter at 161 degrees. We cracked an egg and waited. And waited. Fifteen minutes later, we went inside. Over the next three hours, we checked on the egg and finally, by 5 p.m., some of the albumen, or egg white, had firmed up while the rest dried out. The yolk was turning orange.
Steinberg explained that the blacktop was hotter because black absorbs heat while light or white reflects it.
The problem with trying to fry an egg on the sidewalk, or asphalt, is that a constant heat source is needed, says a spokeswoman for the American Egg Board. Once you place the egg on the surface, it cools it down.
2. You can make a grilled cheese sandwich in your car. You can't cook a can of biscuits, though.
Once, a co-worker unknowingly left a can of biscuits in his trunk during a summer in his home state of Kentucky. A few days later, he claims he opened the trunk to discover a loaf of biscuits. We tried to re-create these trunk biscuits by placing a can of Pillsbury Grand Jr. Homestyle Butter Tastin' biscuits in his trunk. Surely a hotter Las Vegas summer day would be ideal baking conditions. The temperature in the trunk at 11 a.m. measured 127 degrees. After two hours, the top of the can burst, spilling out a mass of gooey, buttery dough. By 5 p.m., the trunk temperature measured 147 degrees. Still no biscuits. The cooking directions are to place biscuits in a preheated, 400-degree oven for 15 minutes.
It is possible to cook food in a trunk, says the chemist Steinberg. It works on the same principle as a solar oven. It requires a lot more time than six hours, though.
Melting cheese took only half an hour after placed on the floor of a car (129 degrees). Plenty of people have cooked food on car engines. For recipes, see "Manifold Destiny" cookbook, by Chris Maynard and Bill Scheller.
3. Black cars are hotter than white cars, you say? Duh.
This is one of those intuitive "myths," especially if you know that black absorbs heat while white reflects it (see sidewalk cooking above).
"I think it's hotter than hell," Steinberg says of black vehicles. "All of my cars are white for that reason." On July 16 between 2 and 3 p.m., we measured the interiors of a white truck with untinted windows and a black SUV with tinted windows. The black SUV temperatures were: steering wheel, 160 degrees; driver's seat, 156 degrees; floorboard, 133 degrees; ceiling 171 degrees; dashboard, 179 degrees.
The white truck: steering wheel, 149 degrees; driver's seat, 149 degrees; floorboard, 129 degrees; ceiling, 152 degrees; dashboard, 179 degrees.
It's hard to account for the reduction in heat from the tinted windows, but Bobby Gottlieb, owner of Five Star Auto Repair, says that tinted windows do make a difference in a car's interior temperature. The ceilings seem to have the greatest temperature difference, 19 degrees. The temperatures differed by a few degrees, but that small difference could feel much bigger on a hot day.
The biggest fluctuation was in the exterior paint. The black SUV driver's door measured 190 degrees while the white truck door was 152 degrees.
Using a sun shade in your windshield will help reduce the heat, Gottlieb and Steinberg say, maybe by 5 to 10 degrees.
So, in a nutshell, "if you have a black car, it's going to be hotter," Gottlieb says. "If you have black leather seats and you wear shorts in this weather, God have mercy on you."
4. To make glass and rubber, you use heat. You can destroy them both with heat, too. And your car battery will die, no matter what.
Gottlieb once knew a mechanic who got into a lot of trouble for advertising summer/winter air changes for tires. The saddest part? Some people actually paid to have their "winter" air changed over to "summer" air, he says. Heat makes air expand so there will be small fluctuations in tire pressure, Gottlieb says, but nothing drastic. And there's certainly no reason to believe in "seasonal" air for tires.
"The heat does soften up the rubber, and then it hardens after it cools off," Gottlieb explains. "Tires can only go through that so many times before you get dry rot. How many times depends on the tire and the compounds it's made out of."
After a certain amount of dry rot, you are more susceptible to flat tires and blowouts, which may explain why you see more pieces of tire on the freeway during our hotter months. The same principle is at work in windshield wipers, which seem to never work when you actually need them.
And it doesn't matter what kind of battery you buy, it's probably going to die within two years of being in Las Vegas, Gottlieb says.
It's not necessary to crack your windows to prevent them from breaking during the hottest days. Gottlieb says he has never heard of windows or windshields shattering from the heat. But if you have a chip in your windshield, you better stay away from water. Cooling the glass quickly can result in the chip turning into a crack or cause the crack to spread.
5. CDs really can withstand the heat. Crayons, on the other hand, cannot.
People tend to leave things in their cars during the summer only to discover them after they've made a colossal mess. We took two common items, CDs and crayons, and left them in this reporter's car to see what happened. We placed a CD on the dashboard of a black SUV at 11 a.m. The first track on the CD was Nelly's "Hot in Herre ," which we thought was appropriate for this task. After three hours, the CD measured 205 degrees. That night, it played perfectly.
The crayons were a molten, 160-degree mess. They were so hot that they melted through the plastic bag that we had put them in to prevent a permanent mess.
6. It's kind of like sticking your head in an oven that is on a very, very low temperature setting.
Chef Flemming Pedersen, of Chef Flemming's Bake Shop in Henderson, has been sticking his head and arms inside hot ovens for nearly 40 years. When he first moved to Las Vegas 20 years ago, the summer heat overwhelmed him. He can see where people might think walking out of an air-conditioned building into 110-degree weather feels like "sticking your head in an oven." But to bake something, he sets the oven between 250 and 425 degrees, depending on the recipe.
"If you're not used to the heat, it may feel like that," Pedersen says. "It almost takes your breath away. It's the same feeling when you stand in front of the oven."
7. But it's a dry heat. Or is it?
Usually, it is, says meteorologist Faith Borden. Historically, Las Vegas experiences single-digit humidity, which may make the heat more bearable. People who hail from more humid parts of the country, such as the Southeast, are used to oppressive, sticky hot summers where the humidity is so high, perspiration can't evaporate.
"Humidity could play a huge role in the perception of heat," she explains. "It's still incredibly hot, but not sticky or what people would describe as uncomfortable. Like a convection oven. I wouldn't want to be sitting in an oven, though."
Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564.