No. 6: Summer Heat Wave

The U.S. had its second hottest summer on record this year, and July was blazing hot, breaking or tying 2,676 records for highest daily temperatures. If you include nighttime high and low temperatures, the month of July broke nearly 9,000 heat records nationwide.

Newark, N.J., reached 108 degrees on July 22, beating the previous record from August 2001 by 3 degrees. The mercury hit a remarkable 117 degrees in Childress, Texas, and heat indices across the country were causing millions to seek air-conditioned shelter. Even the Potomac River couldn’t keep its cool as it reached a record temperature of 96 degrees.

Oklahoma and Texas had their hottest month of July this year, and most of the rest of the country felt the heat as well. One commentator on a news site said, “It’s been so hot in Texas, the devil packed his bags and left!” In Dallas, it was over 100 degrees for all but one day in the month of July. Meanwhile, the drought in the Southwest grew continually worse with yet another month of summer to come.

Struggles in the heat:

  • Pressure on the U.S. power grid caused all-time highs in utility bills, being especially stressful for low-income families.
  • An increased strain was placed on emergency rooms.
  • 141 million Americans were under heat advisories.
  • Infrastructure — roads buckled and split, train rails warped and bent, and water mains in Oklahoma broke under heat strain.
  • As the drought worsened, a Texas lake nearly dried up and turned bright red.
  • Dust storms moved through Arizona.
  • Agriculture — the heat and drought took their toll on crops and became a factor in rising food prices, especially in the corn, dairy, and cattle industries.

Causes
Fingers are being pointed once again at La Nina for the excessive heat and drought this summer. As for global warming, it can sometimes take 30 years of data to discover and prove trends in the effects of climate change, so isolated events such as tornado supercells and excessive heat are not easy to explain as direct effects of global warming. Only time and science can give us those answers.

As hot as it was this summer, we are reminded by Christopher C. Burt at Weather Undergound that it still wasn’t as bad as the great heat wave of 1936.

Becky Uline is an editor and musician living in San Francisco, where she enjoys digging into Yahoo! data as a sidekick to trend-finding sleuth Vera H-C Chan. Most of her writing is of the musical variety for her band, the Northerlies.

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