An epic heat wave is scorching parts of the United States, with triple-digit temperatures expected to hit the East Coast by this weekend, MSN is reporting.
The culprit is what meteorologists are calling a “heat dome,” an area of high pressure that essentially traps heat underneath it. Ultimately, this is making life miserable and, in some cases, even deadly for those of us on the ground. Meteorologist Sean Sublette explained to Time how the weather system is scorching parts of the U.S.
“There’s a very large bubble that’s working its way across the nation. The atmosphere travels in waves—waves that are up and waves that are down. Up waves are allowing a lot of hot air to come up through the equator.”
Even President Obama has taken notice. On Wednesday, Obama tweeted a map of the heat wave and urged Americans to stay safe.
This map says it all. Stay safe as it heats up: Drink water, stay out of the sun, and check on your neighbors. pic.twitter.com/c1qFTmq2IV
— President Obama (@POTUS) July 20, 2016
In Chicago, heat indices could reach as high as 115 degrees by Friday afternoon, according to the New York Daily News (the heat index is the “feels like” temperature that factors in the temperature combined with the humidity). In Pierre, South Dakota, local resident Misty Black Bear described how her ice cream cone started melting the instant she stepped out into the 105-degree heat. And in Minneapolis, officials canceled a horse race after temperatures climbed into the upper 90s.
And as the heat wave makes its way eastward, cities on the East Coast can expect to battle triple-digit temperatures. New York is expected to sizzle, although the Big Apple is not expected to top its heat record set during a 10-day stretch in 1953. Washington, D.C., Raleigh, Atlanta, and Nashville, among other major eastern cities, can also expect triple-digit temperatures.
All told, about 200 million Americans can expect temperatures of 90 degrees or higher in the coming days. Approximately 130 million can expect heat indices of 100 degrees or higher.
AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams said that hot weather in July is to be expected, but not like this.
“Hot weather is no stranger to July, but 100-degree Fahrenheit heat in July has been relatively uncommon from Chicago to New York City so far this century.”
And triple-digit temperatures aren’t just an inconvenience — they can be (and already have been) deadly. This week in St. Louis, an elderly woman whose air conditioner was malfunctioning died from the excessive heat, marking the second heat-related fatality in St. Louis this summer.
So is climate change to blame for the current heat wave? 2016 is certainly on track to be the hottest year on record, and the current heat wave isn’t going to change that. But it’s hard to say conclusively if any one weather event is due to climate change, as weather events are short-term phenomena lasting a few days or few months, whereas climate change refers to a long-term trend lasting years, decades, and even centuries.
But there is precedent for blaming a deadly heat wave on climate change. Back in 2003, according to Pacific Standard, a deadly heat wave claimed 70,000 lives in Europe — the worst heat wave in Europe since the 16th century. And scientists concluded that climate change did, indeed, play a role in those deaths.
“We are now at the stage where we can identify the cost to our health of man-made global warming.”
Climate change or not, authorities are warning Americans to stay safe during this heat wave. Check on your neighbors — especially those who are elderly and/or may not have air conditioning. Stay inside air-conditioned areas whenever possible, and stay hydrated.
The current heat wave is expected to continue through this upcoming weekend, followed by slightly cooler temperatures next week.
[Image via Chayathorn Lertpanyaroj/Shutterstock]