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Summer Heat Hits with a Significant Bang

It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season, with record-breaking temperatures already on tap.
Abigail Bassett
Jun 21, 2024 4 min read
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There’s no question that summer has arrived with a bang in the Northern Hemisphere. June has already proven to be a remarkably warm month, causing deaths, fires, and more all over the world. On the heels of record-breaking summer heat in 2023, the advent of earlier and warmer conditions doesn’t exactly bode well for climate change.

Heat Domes and Record-Setting Temperatures

Over a thousand heat-related deaths at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, triple-digit temperatures in the Northeastern United States, and the hottest Olympic games on record all point to another record-setting summer in the Northern Hemisphere. And according to Scientific American, summer heat waves are hotter and are lasting longer than in recent generations.

Take May: It was the warmest May globally since records began in 1850, according to NOAA, and marks one year (12 months) of unprecedented heat around the world. For a consecutive year, 2024 could very well beat 2023’s record-breaking heat, according to Copernicus, the European Union’s climate monitoring organization.

Heat domes have become far more common in recent years. These weather phenomena occur when a high-pressure area traps hot air beneath it, like a lid covering a pot. The pressure pushes air down into a hotter, dome-shaped mass and stops milder weather systems from moving through. Most heat domes last a few days, but they can last for weeks and typically accompany a heat wave. A heat dome that hit the US and Canada in 2021 lasted for a month.

The western US just saw its first heat dome of the summer in early June, with temperatures skyrocketing as high as 122℉ (50℃) in Death Valley. This week, Vermont will be hotter than Miami with temperatures in some parts of the state reaching into the triple digits.  These weather events, while common, have become more frequent in recent years. While there is some debate about the impact that climate change and global warming have on these “blocking” weather events, a 2023 study does point to an increase in these phenomena, specifically over Northwestern America. While the Southern Hemisphere does get heat domes, they’re less frequent because the Westerlies are stronger.

Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

High Summer Heat was in the Forecast

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been warning that we should expect a very warm summer both in the US and globally for some time now.

According to an early June release by NOAA, “The temperature outlook favors well above average temperatures across much of the central and western parts of the nation, along the Gulf Coast to Florida, around the Great Lakes, and in the Northeast, with no tilt in odds toward any category over the remainder of the country.” The release also notes that temperatures could be 40-50% above normal summer temps for June across large swaths of the U.S. With this week’s heat dome over the eastern US, more than 270 million people will face potentially life-threatening heat.

The good news, at least for the US, is that it could be a wetter than usual summer in most of the country, though that model is a bit less reliable, as NOAA notes. They predict that only the Northern Rockies and the Northern High Plains may see less rainfall than usual this June.

Globall, the outlook is similar, with higher-than-normal rainfall around the world with some records being broken in May, according to NOAA.

Growing Climate Destabilization and “Climate Nonchalance”

We frequently talk about long term climate change, but it may be more accurate to portray the stage we’re currently in it as climate destabilization. Winters and summers all over the world are warmer, growing seasons have changed, the ocean is warming at an alarming rate, and climates that had been stable and predictable for hundreds of years are being upended.

Take, for example, the winter storm warning that was just issued this week for areas of Montana and Idaho, where as much as 15 inches of snow could fall in the ensuing days. At the same time, just south of there, from Colorado to California, there are numerous red flag fire warnings–and wildfires are already raging in the west, like the Post Fire that’s currently burning in LA and consumed 15,000 acres and, as of this writing, was only 8% contained.

The growing climate destabilization has plenty of layered implications outside of deathly heat around the world. From war and famine to political destabilization and more, climate change has wide-reaching implications. Cooling poverty has been on the rise around the world, as well as an increase in health risks and disease. With so much dire data out there, it's tough to understand why there has been a lack of cohesive, impactful, and rapid global movement on climate change.

The Conversation aptly calls it “climate nonchalance,” noting that “This nonchalance – recognising the impending collapse of our world and shrugging our shoulders – is made possible only by a profound separation between the comfortable lifestyles of the privileged and the consequences of those lifestyles elsewhere: including increased death rates, frequent exploitation and environmental displacement for the less privileged.” While the good news is that more than 64% of the world’s population believes that climate change is real and a global emergency, according to a 2021 study by the UN, there are still a surprising number of climate deniers, countries, and corporations that continue to bury their heads in the sand and plow forward with carbon-emitting processes and plans.

While there’s plenty of debate about whether or not the globe has surpassed the 1.5℃ warming benchmark set by the Paris Agreement, the latest heat waves and climate disruption happening in the Northern Hemisphere at such an early stage of the summer is not a good sign. Its even worse that in the US, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) doesn’t currently recognize extreme heat as a disaster, which doesn’t help. The good news is that advancing climate tech might yet save us as it becomes increasingly central to surviving this new and much hotter era.

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The Author

Abigail Bassett