Experts expect that the next few years could be the hottest ever recorded, judging by our current trajectory. 2019 was the second-hottest year ever recorded, which ended the hottest decade in recorded history. This summer, meteorologists are warning about a massive “heat dome” that is expected to bring incredible heats to the United States, with possibly about 90% of the country’s population seeing temperatures of higher than 90 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures.
Summer is in full swing! Tropical Storm Fay formed in the Atlantic. Thunderstorms, some severe, in the Plains and Upper Midwest. Excessive heat up to 121 F possible in the Desert Southwest into early next week. Critical fire weather threats continue for portions of the West. pic.twitter.com/iUODiRglYd
— National Weather Service (@NWS) July 10, 2020
The extremely high temperatures have already begun in the US, and they are only expected to get worse.
Areas in Oklahoma saw heat indexes of over 115 degrees this week, while it reached more than 120 degrees in New Orleans. In Texas, temperatures in Austin and San Antonio broke records for the month of July. In Houston, temperatures hit 100 degrees with a heat index of 111 degrees.
A heat “dome” is not much different scientifically from what meteorologists were referring to as a “heat wave” for years. It is basically just a new hyped-up word for the same phenomenon.
Flavio Lehner, a climate scientist with the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science of the ETH Zurich, explains that, “It’s called a ‘dome’ because of its size and shape, and because the heat gets sort of trapped at the surface — because of the relentless descending of more air on top of it — which can result in the build-up of heat over days.”
Lehner said that this heat dome will probably be with us for a while.
“Eventually, we’ll get a change in the weather pattern and the dome gets pushed out, but this particular situation is somewhat special in how slow-moving it is,” Lehner said.
Indeed, that’s the highest I see—although their record only goes back to 1949. https://t.co/CIRg2Px5V1
— Bob Henson (@bhensonweather) July 11, 2020
A team of scientists funded by the NOAA MAPP Program investigated what triggers heat domes and found the main cause was a strong change (or gradient) in ocean temperatures from west to east in the tropical Pacific Ocean during the preceding winter.
The western Pacific’s temperatures have risen over the past few decades as compared to the eastern Pacific, creating a strong temperature gradient, or pressure differences that drive wind, across the entire ocean in winter. In a process known as convection, the gradient causes more warm air, heated by the ocean surface, to rise over the western Pacific, and decreases convection over the central and eastern Pacific.
These times of extreme heat can be very deadly.
The average annual number of fatalities directly attributed to heat in the United States is about 400. The 1995 Chicago heat wave, one of the worst in US history, led to approximately 739 heat-related deaths over a period of 5 days.
According to the Agency for Health care Research and Quality, about 6,200 Americans are hospitalized each summer due to excessive heat, and those at highest risk are poor, uninsured or elderly.
Despite the dangers, Scott Sheridan, professor of geography at Kent State University, found that less than half of people 65 and older abide by heat-emergency recommendations such as drinking plenty of water. Make sure to have water with you if you are going to be outside for any length of time, and be conscious of your neighbors who might not have air conditioning, especially those who are senior citizens.