It’s The Dog Days of Wyoming Summer…But What Does ‘Dog Days’ Mean?
Sometimes, the most interesting tidbits come from a chance encounter at the grocery store. For example, I was shopping for picnic supplies at King Soopers the other day. As I strolled through the store, I overheard one fellow customer say something about "the dog days of summer" while examining the tomatoes.
As I perused for the perfect cantaloupe (a picnic essential in my house), I found myself wondering...what even are the dog days of summer? Sure, I've heard the saying plenty, but what does it even mean? And when exactly are the dog days of summer? Do they actually have anything to do with dogs?
So many questions...but thanks to some research, I know the answers.
What Are the Dog Days of Summer?
The Dog Days of Summer do, in fact, refer to dogs...kind of. The phrase specifically refers to a single dog - though this canine lives in the night sky.
The phrase originates from the Ancient Greeks and Egyptian astronomers who discovered the constellation Canis Major, or the Greater Dog. Within that constellation, Sirius the Dog Star shimmers the brightest star in the night sky. Ancient cultural beliefs about the Dog Days varied based on location.
The Dog Days in Italy: Rabid Dogs & Sultry Weather
The Ancient Greeks and their successors, the Romans, associated the rising of Sirius in mid-to-late summer with extremely humid and hot weather. They believed that the "combined heat" of super-bright Sirius and our Sun was...the cause of summer's sweltering temperatures," according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. The ancient Greeks referred to this time frame as "dies caniculares" or "days of the dog star," which by the 1500s evolved to "the dog days."
The Greeks and Romans weren't fans of "the dog days." In ancient Greecian culture, Sirius rising marked a time of drought and extreme heat that led to mad dogs and mad people. The Poet Virgil described the dog days as villainous in the Aeneid, saying, "fiery Sirius, bringer of drought and plague to frail mortals, rises and saddens the sky with sinister light."
The Dog Days in Egypt: Bountiful Harvests
In ancient Egypt, the rising of Sirius was associated with the Nile River's annual flood, so the Egyptians used the star as a warning system for when the floods would arrive. The ancient Egyptians saw the Dog Star as a good omen marking the time of fertility when the Nile flooded and ensured a good harvest for Egyptian crops.
The Dog Days of Today
Our modern use of "Dog Days of Summer" doesn't quite connect with its ancient origins. I've heard the phrase used to describe any particularly hot or muggy day across the entire summer or to describe the last few days of the season. But the idea that Sirius rising comes with bizarre weather remains the same. Perhaps that explains the extreme amount of rain we got these last few weeks in Wyoming?
As late as the 1800s, the Old Farmer's Almanac associated Sirius with crazy weather. In 1817 they published the following, "Dog Days are approaching; you must, therefore, make both hay and haste while the Sun shines, for when old Sirius takes command of the weather, he is such an unsteady, crazy dog, there is no dependence upon him."
But, there are actually specific days that astronomers and meteorologists identify as "the Dog Days of Summer."
When Are the Dog Days of Summer?
The Old Farmer's Almanac identifies the Dog Days as beginning in early July - starting July 3 in 2023. The Dog Days end after about 40 days, on August 11 this year. The actual start and end dates of the Dog Days varies based on the rising of Sirius, but in general, sources agree that the dates occur in early July through early to mid-August.
So, technically speaking, the "Dog Days of Summer" are over. Does that mean our weather will be less crazy this month? Of course not! This is Wyoming! We have "Dog Days" weather all summer long.