Hottest Summer Months Ever?
It is already quite hot in many parts of the planet. Over the past few weeks, extreme heat waves that have wracked several areas of the US, Europe, and China have put lives in danger, raised the possibility of wildfires, and pushed electric grids to their breaking points.
In Minnesota, streets collapsed, and car windows were shattered due to temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In Kansas, thousands of cattle died. In contrast, temperatures in France reached almost 110°F and broke or tied more than 200 national records for monthly heat.
The heat wave affecting Europe is beginning to diminish. But the United States' deadliest weather-related event, excessive heat, is still present and spreading from the Great Plains to the southeast. Over the next week, an astounding 70% of the US population—including citizens of major cities like Atlanta, New Orleans, and Dallas—could see temperatures in the 90s. On Tuesday, a heat advisory was in effect for tens of millions of Americans. The National Weather Service offers no chance of relief as it projects hotter-than-average temperatures for July, August, and September further into the future.
This is out of the ordinary in the summer compared to historical averages. It's too far. However, as the earth heats up, "normal" and "extreme" have become meaningless terms in meteorology. Heat waves like these will probably get worse, not better, in the years to come. So even while it may be hot this summer, it may also be one of the coolest in decades.
What is the Source of All This Heat?
According to the National Weather Service, a "heat wave" is a prolonged stretch of temperatures significantly hotter than the area average and lasts at least two days.
They often start when there has been a buildup of high atmospheric pressure. This causes an air column to sink, which causes it to compress, heat up, and frequently dry out. Additionally, the high-pressure system squeezes clouds away. It expels colder, swifter air currents, allowing the sun to have an unhindered line of sight to the ground. The ground then bakes in the sunlight. During the long summer days and brief winter nights, heat energy swiftly builds up, and temperatures soar.
Summer is Only Getting Hotter
Heat waves are happening more frequently, staying longer, and bringing more intense temperatures. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there were six heat waves in the most recent decade compared to two on average in the 1960s.
People's bodies can adjust biologically to deal with heat as the season gets hotter, but the process takes time. The EPA states that heat waves that happen earlier in the spring or later in the fall can catch individuals off guard and expose them to more health hazards. Climate researchers find it particularly concerning since these occurrences occur earlier in the year, when populations, cities, and the infrastructure they depend on may not be ready for excessive heat.
The good news is that climate models are getting better, and meteorologists can, to some extent, predict extreme weather. In a forecast from May, the National Weather Service predicted that summer would be hot.
The issue is that many global infrastructures, regulations, and planning are based on historical norms, even if it is evident that the future won't resemble the past.
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