There Are Only Eight Ways to Cover a Heat Wave

It's hard to think when it's hot, including coming up with new ways to say, "It's hot!"

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With triple-digit temperatures sending Americans running for air conditioning, the media is scrambling for interesting ways to cover this year's heat wave. This is a heck of a challenge, because as long as human beings have been able to speak, we've been able to complain about the weather. When the heat gets so bad that walking feels like swimming in a pool of boiling water, thinking is damn near impossible. At first, it seems like journalists are trying really hard to make their take sound interesting. (We're no exception. Over the past week or so we've written about vintage swimming pools, fire hydrant hacks and angry weather maps.) But at the end of the day,  the media's stuck trying the same eight tricks to cover a heat wave.

1. Write about things that are cold. Obviously when everything else is smoldering, anything consumable with "ice" in the name is welcome. Always looking for the next big thing, The New York Times reported Tuesday on various new trends in frozen treats. (We'll take a caramel-filled Dutch stroopwaffel, please.) The Onion's A.V. Club has a list of movies involving ice and cold to watch inside your hopefully air-conditioned house. Not only do these types of cold-things pieces provide readers with refreshing ideas for snacks, they also provide writers with ample opportunities to try out new adjectives.

2. Recreate the porch-sitting tradition. On Thursday, Dan Zak reminded his Twitter followers that the heat-seeking news article is old hat. "Wrote a heat story five years ago," said Zak. "Heat's still hot. Always has been. Just change the date and republish." Indeed, in the link he provides, we're taken back to a hot August off the Potomac in the style of Hemingway. Noting the temperature rising with each hour of the day, Zak introduces characters around Maryland and logs their complaints about the heat. It's about as close as we've gotten to sitting in a Virginia rocking chair listening to Granddad talk about the crops cooking.

3. Make lists of records broken, mention global warming. Just as the porch-sitting angle accomplishes journalists' duty to capture the public mood, logging broken temperature records accomplishes their duty of cataloging information. Oddly enough, this amounts to about the same thing as sitting around and watching the mercury rise, though. We can imagine the newsroom conversation now: Is it hot? Is it record-breaking hot? Can you get an environmental scientist to talk about what it means in terms of climate change? If the answer is yes to any of these questions, we have an A1 scoop.

4. Offer health tips. This is classic service journalism. The fact of the matter is, heat waves are dangerous and potentially deadly. The 1995 Chicago heat wave claimed over 750 lives within the span of five days, many of them elderly people who suffered from heat stroke. Additionally, heat brings the threat of sun burn, heat exhaustion and complications to other conditions. You can find health tips in pretty much any any newspaper, but we found the Los Angeles Times's piece, "How extreme heat attacks the body," to be particularly interesting. The Chicago Tribune tried this angle too.

5. Offer off-beat cooking tips. Since it's so hot outside, why would you turn on an oven and waste expensive gas? We'd guess at least one local TV news reporter does the old cook-an-egg-on-the-hood-of-a-car trick every year. (Hat tip to Eugene Daniel of Peoria, Illinois' KSDK for doing it this year.) Otherwise, food bloggers can use the heat wave as an excuse to offer strategies for cooking an egg on the sidewalk or more general tips for cooking without a stove.

6. Remind readers that winter exists. This is sort of the bait-and-switch strategy. You grab the reader's attention with the mention of something cool like ice skating or skiing or anything else winter-related. And then you tell them how hot it is and how long they have to wait before they can participate in cold-weather activities. If you're not a winter fan, however, this is a great way to remind yourself that the heat's not all that bad.

7. Remind readers that they're better off than many. One consistent fact that tends to emerge from every heat wave is how the toll is worst on the poor. Without access to air conditioning or shelter from the sun heat is deadly. Many homeless across the country suffer terribly in heat waves and cities are constantly looking for better ways to help them make it through the hot months. "Heat waves and homelessness are not congruent," writes Joel John Roberts, CEO of People Assisting the Homeless, on The Huffington Post. "In fact, hot weather for those of us who are housed is uncomfortable, but the same conditions can be deadly for those without a home."

8. Make a slideshow. This one doesn't need much explanation. People look funny when they're trying to stay cool. Dogs look hilarious. This is typically the format you see for "X Number of Ways to Beat the Heat." Alternatively, there's also plenty of opportunities for inappropriate infographics and clever cartoons.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.