‘Stifling’: Extreme Heat Hammers the U.S.

‘Stifling’: Extreme Heat Hammers the U.S.

Today is officially the first day of summer, but seriously hot weather first arrived in some parts of the country over a month ago. And the scorching trend is set to continue. The National Weather Service is forecasting more triple-digit temperatures across large swathes of the U.S. this week.

Between yesterday and this coming Sunday, around 70% of the U.S. population will likely have experienced temps in the 90s. And nearly 20% of the country could face temperatures at or above 38 degrees Celsius this week, according to a report by CNN.

The heat dome that first cooked California and the Southwest two weeks ago has been moving east instead of dissipating. It’s been hovering over the Plains states and Midwest and is now shifting Southeast. “Stifling heat and humidity across the Plains and Midwest to expand east and include the Southeast by mid-week,” said the NWS in today’s morning forecast.

Currently, parts of eight Midwest states plus central California are under heat advisories. On Tuesday, the NWS forecasted high temps and heat index values up to or exceeding 100 degrees in the California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, Missouri, Kansas, and Michigan. According to the NWS, these highs are between 15 and 25 degrees above normal local temperatures for this time of year.

Starting tomorrow, high temperatures are expected to move away from the Great Lakes and to settle around the Gulf Coast instead. From Texas to Alabama to the Carolinas, triple digit temps are forecast from Wednesday through Sunday. “This will result in some instances of record breaking heat in the Southeast,” wrote the NWS.

Though today is something of a last gasp for Midwest and Plains state heat, the hot temperatures have caused lots of problems for the region. Thousands of cattle died heat-related deaths in Kansas the weekend of June 11-12. Late last week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation issued a statewide warning about heat-related road buckling, which can cause unsafe driving conditions.

Cows and infrastructure aside, heat waves are also the most deadly type of weather event for humans. On top of causing heat illness and stroke and increasing the risk of dehydration, hot temperatures exacerbate existing health conditions like heart disease.

But some people are more vulnerable than others. About 1,500 people in the U.S. die from excessive heat annually, half of whom are homeless, according to a report from the Associated Press. In Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding county alone, an estimated 130 homeless people died because of the heat last year. A heatwave in the Pacific Northwest killed more than 100 people, many of whom were also living outside.

In the last seven days, there’ve been 1,804 daily records set for high temperatures in various locations across the U.S.. In contrast, only 281 daily low records were set during that same time period, according to NOAA data. In other words: This past week, it’s been six times as likely for local temperatures to exceed the past historic record high for the same date in the same place than to drop below the historically recorded lows.

Nationally, in the month of May, temperatures were notably above the average established for the period from 1895 to 2022. This was true even though the Pacific Northwest has been cooler than normal, because the rest of the country more than made up for the difference.

NOAA ranked much of the South, Midwest, and Northeast as “much above average” for various temperature measurements. This hotter-than-average heat is likely contributing to fires and droughts in California and the Southwest. However, Texas seems to be having the worst 2022 warm season so far. The Lone Star State had its overall record warmest May ever.

Human-caused climate change is making heatwaves more frequent, longer, and more intense. The season in which heatwaves occur is now almost 50 days longer that it was in the 1960s, and the incidence of heatwaves has more than tripled since then. Each individual heatwave is an average of a full day longer, according to the EPA.

Outside of the U.S., the same trends apply. An ongoing heatwave in Europe has broken multiple all-time temperature records in the past few days. A spring heatwave from earlier this year in India and Pakistan killed more than 90 people, and further consequences from those temperature extremes continue to accrue.

Climate change is here. It is dictating our day-to-day weather now. It is causing human deaths now. If we want to avoid the most catastrophic consequences, we have to act to stop fossil fuel emissions within an ever-narrowing window of time.

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