Farewell, Indian summer

The first 10 days of this month constituted one of the coldest November starts on record in Philadelphia, with an an average temperature of 44.2.

That made it the coldest such period since the bicentennial year -- 1976 -- 36 years ago. That month preceded an historically cold winter.

Nov. 1-10 places No. 8 on the top 10 cold list in the period of record, dating to 1874. We note that four of the 10 occurred in the 19th Century.

Officially, the temperature reached 70 this afternoon at Philadelphia International Airport, the day after hitting 68.

This is classic Indian Summer behavior -- a balmy spell coming after a hard freeze -- even though the term isn't a hard-core meteorological one.

While Indian Summer conditions are easy enough to identify, the origin of the phrase is as hazy as the air can get on days like this.

What it has to do with "Indians" or the pre-Columbian natives of the Western Hemisphere is unclear.

National Weather Service historian William R. Deedler has written that one possibility might have to do with the fact that the Indians chose balmy, autumn days for hunting when the prey were frisky.

He hypothesized that perphaps the term had something to do with the Indian harvest.

The earliest mention he found appeared in a journal in 1778, suggesting that the term must have been in used before then.

In any event, our Indian Summer interlude is over for now, and we return to the regularly scheduled November tomorrow.

Incidentally, the coolest Nov. 1-10 period occurred in 1875, 38.7 degrees, followed by 1976, 41.9; 1878, 42.2; 1884, 42.6; 1962, 43; 1951, 43.3; 1954, 43.4; the aformentioned 2011, 44.2; 1878, 44.3, and 1973, 44.8.