If you saw CNN’s news ticker last week and read that corn sweat is to blame for the heat dome, and your response was “WHAAT??!” you were right to be skeptical. Here’s the Scoop.
First, No, corn sweat did not cause the heat wave. The heat wave was caused by a massive dome of high pressure centered over North America’s mid-section. But it could make things feel hotter.
“Corn sweat” is simply evapotranspiration, or how moisture in plant leaves evaporates into the air. A plant draws water out of the ground, and that water is exposed to the air once it gets into the leaves above ground. Then it evaporates just like sweat does off our skin, though it doesn’t help to keep the plant cool.
All this evaporation from leaves can make things more humid. And humidity tends to make temperatures feel hotter than they are. So if you’re surrounded by huge fields of corn, or any other large quantity of leafy green vegetation, humidity might be higher, and so it will feel even hotter than it really is. You can use the heat index table to figure out how hot it feels to your body when you combine temperature and humidity.
To see if corn sweat is affecting you, here’s a map of where most of the corn is grown in the U.S.
Now here’s a map showing the heat index, or how hot it felt on July 20, 2016 thanks to the heat dome and humidity. Some of the high temperatures are shown over areas where there’s a good deal of corn, but there are hot temperatures where there is no corn. So it’s hard to get a correlation from these pictures.
What I can tell you, living down here in Tucson where there is no corn and pretty low humidity, even a dry heat is hot when it starts to go over 100. So, no matter where you live and how close you are to corn, be careful out there. Choose shade and drink lots of water!
Thanks for reading!
Kathy and Rachel