As this summer’s sizzling temperatures finally start to wind down, it’s time to come to grips with just how serious this dangerous weather phenomenon is becoming. Across the United States, excessive heat is already the leading cause of death from weather-related events, including floods, tornadoes, lightning and hurricanes. And around the globe, the jet stream itself may be changing, making summer heat waves more common, widespread and lethal.
How Hot Was It This Summer?
Just how bad were this summer’s heat waves? In New England, temperatures in Concord, NH, reached at least 90 degrees for eight days straight in early August – tying the state’s second-longest heat wave on record. Montpelier, VT, set daily high temperature records for three straight days on Aug. 6-8. And the heat index in both states topped 100 degrees on Aug. 4.
This August heat wave came less than two weeks after scorching summer temperatures broke records across the Northeast. For all of July, average temperatures in northern New England ranged from 2.2 degrees F above normal in Vermont to 4.4 degrees above normal in Massachusetts.
|Max. Temp Avg.
|Heat Ranking since 1900
This extends and worsens a 50-year summer warming trend in New England, with temperatures climbing faster as you head farther north. Since 1970, average summer temperatures are up 1.5 degrees in Springfield, MA; 2.5 degrees in Concord, NH; and 3.3 degrees in Burlington, VT.
Beware the ‘Omega Block’
What’s happening here in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere is emblematic of a global trend where temperatures are rising faster as you get closer to the Arctic Circle. The resulting decline in temperature differential is slowing down circumpolar winds that drive our jet stream, allowing kinks to form as it moves from west to east across the Northern Hemisphere.
This “omega” pattern creates large heat domes that can set up across mid-continental regions of the Northern Hemisphere and persist for weeks or even months. This year’s most conspicuous heat episode began in the late spring, when more than a billion people in South Asia endured several months of almost uninterrupted temperatures above 100 degrees. By July, five simultaneous heat waves were gripping much of Asia, Europe and North America.
More than 900 million people in China sweltered under a long July heat wave that broke weather records at more than 70 weather stations across the country. In Europe, the United Kingdom recorded its highest-ever temperature – 104.5 degrees F – while France, Spain and Portugal battled wildfires and recorded more than 2,000 heat-related deaths.
Back in the United States, a massive heat dome settled over the Pacific Northwest in late July, with Seattle, WA, recording six straight days above 90 degrees for the first time and Portland, OR, experiencing seven days above 95 degrees, also for the first time. Farther south, Dallas, TX, recorded 27 days above 100 degrees, with the average daily temperature topping 102 degrees in July.
The Race Is On
So, while there is much rejoicing over President Biden’s signing of the Inflation Reduction Act earlier this week – which could be a real game changer for renewable energy development in the United States – it’s worth remembering that we’re already playing catch up with global warming and that the race is on to avoid the most extreme, worst-case climate outcomes.
Since international climate negotiations started in 1990, the world’s cumulative carbon dioxide emissions have already more than doubled and we’re now on track for about 3.5 degrees F of global warming by late this century. That puts us perilously close to a tipping point that could drive even more extreme heat waves, wildfires and flooding. With this in mind, some climate scientists are now saying it’s time to start paying more attention to worst-case outcomes, including the specter of widespread extinctions, mass climate migration and disintegration of social and political systems.
“We know the least about the scenarios that matter the most,” commented lead author Luke Kemp, a catastrophic risk scholar at the University of Cambridge, in a new commentary published by the National Academy of Sciences this month. “Current climate change is more rapid than the warming involved in past mass extinction events. Previous societal crises and transformations were in response to modest, natural regional fluctuations. We now face fast, severe, global, man-made climate change.”
While none of us can reverse this disturbing trend on our own, we all need to do our part to meet the climate challenge. Solaflect Energy is your home energy management partner. We help you install clean and affordable solar electricity and home battery systems for a more resilient and climate-friendly future. For more information email us or call (802) 649-3700. Together, the power is in our hands to make a difference.