How Hot – and Bright – Will the Sun Shine this Summer?

New England is off to another warm start this year as we head into the summer of 2023.  The first four months of the year were the second- and third-hottest on record in New Hampshire and Vermont, respectively, with average temperatures running about 6.5 degrees F above the 20th century average

While an early season heat wave was a factor in April’s near-record temperatures, the driving force was warm overnight conditions that kept temperatures above the freezing mark for the vast majority of the month.  Such mild weather may lull gardeners and farmers into thinking it’s time to plant, even though there is still a good chance of getting another killing frost – like the one that hit parts of our region last Wednesday night.

Looking ahead over the next three months, the National Weather Service is forecasting more warm weather along the Eastern seaboard, thanks in part to a change in Pacific Ocean temperatures that mark the onset of a new El Niño event.  The last time an El Niño set up, in 2016, the entire globe experienced its warmest year on record.  Despite a return of cooler La Niña conditions since then, each of the last eight years has still ranked among the 10 warmest years on record.  Now, forecasters say there is at least a one-in-four chance that 2023 will end up as the warmest year yet, with El Niño playing an even bigger role next year. 

With a return to El Niño conditions, above average temperatures are expected across most of the eastern United States this summer.

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire

In what could be a decidedly mixed blessing, however, wildfires raging out West could have a mitigating effect on our local weather this summer.  Besides sunsets featuring blazing orange Sun as it descends through the layers of smoke, the atmospheric haze may cool off our temperatures by a degree or two, as it scatters sunlight that otherwise would reach the ground. 

The source of this smoke is more than 2,000 miles away, and not even from the United States.  Ground zero right now is the province of Alberta, Canada, where more than 90 wildfires are blazing, including nearly 25 that are out of control.  This has prompted government officials in Alberta to declare a state of emergency, order the evacuation of more than 30,000 residents, and shut down nearly 320,000 barrels a day of oil and gas production in the province’s vast tar sands and natural gas fields.

On May 10, smoke from out-of-control wildfires in Alberta and British Columbia streamed east and south into portions of the Great Lakes, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.  Source:  National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration

Despite record snow that fell in parts of the western United States this winter, most of western Canada has been racked by drought.  This has set the stage for more than 425 forest fires that have burned through 410,000 hectares in Alberta as of May 10 – that’s nearly double the five-year average of hectares burned in an entire season!

Unfortunately, there is no relief in sight.  The Pacific Northwest, including Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, has just been hit by an early-season heat wave, starting last weekend, sending the mercury soaring well into the eighties and even the nineties in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver.  Two years ago, this same region was besieged by a “heat dome” that shattered temperature records, causing many deaths and introducing a new “weather normal” for the region.

As in New England, many homes in the Pacific Northwest do not have air conditioning.  Now, Oregon has passed a law requiring that all new housing built after April 2024 have air conditioning installed in at least one room.  In addition, Portland has launched a heat response program with the goal of installing portable heat pumps and cooling units in low-income households, prioritizing residents who are older and live alone, as well as those with underlying health conditions.

So, are you ready for what may be another long, hot summer?  The best way to cool off your electric bill — and the planet — is by putting a Solaflect Tracker in your backyard.  It follows the Sun all day long, generates 40% more power than rooftop panels, and cuts utility bills, which are also going through the roof!

Solaflect Energy is your home energy management partner.  We help you install clean and affordable solar electricity for a more resilient and climate-friendly future.  For more information email us, or call (802) 649-3700.  

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