Heat wave scorches the U.S. West: 50 million people under warnings

Heat wave is scorching the U.S. West. More than 50 million people in eight U.S. states were under heat warnings Tuesday as the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) urged people to remain hydrated and stay indoors.

A week of triple-digit temperatures made worse by climate crisis is forecast across much of the U.S. West this week, with records poised to fall in several towns, cities and states across the drought-plagued region.

A 100-year record has been broken in Montana. The hottest temperature was in a Utah city in 147 years. Dozens of daily records smashed throughout many states. Dozens of daily records were smashed Monday and Tuesday stretching from California’s central and inland valleys to as far north as Montana and Wyoming.

Salt Lake City also set another heat record for the second day in a row, experiencing its hottest day of the year and the hottest temperature for June in 147 years after hitting 106 degrees Fahrenheit (F), according to the weather service. Palm Springs, California, hit 117 degrees F, appearing to break the record high temperature for June 15 set in 1961.

A daily record of 104 degrees F was set in Billings, Montana, Tuesday, after the clip was broken Monday; a daily temperature record in 1919 was shattered by 12 degrees F in Miles City, Montana. In Denver Tuesday, temperatures soared to 101 F degrees, breaking the old record for June 15, which was 97 degrees F in 1952 and in 1993.

“Given the heat, dry conditions, and gusty winds, fire danger is also a concern throughout much of the West, with Critical Risks of fire weather in place this evening across portions of the central Great Basin and Northern Rockies,” the weather service also said in an advisory.

Rising temperatures were worsening the risk for wildfires in Montana and northern Wyoming, officials said. Strong winds with gusts up to 35 mph were expected, threatening to stir up wildfires already burning and make it hard to stamp out new blazes.

A wildfire that broke out Monday near Yellowstone National Park in Montana grew quickly overnight and had burned more than 3 square miles by Tuesday morning, news station KULR-TV reported. Homeowners in the area were told they could be asked to evacuate if conditions worsened.

In Las Vegas, meteorologist Stan Czyzyk told the Las Vegas Review Journal that the high Tuesday may exceed the 1940 record of 116 F for the day, but that records were more likely to fall later in the week.

The NWS said that since records began in 1937, the high has been at or above 113 F in Las Vegas five days in a row only five times.

Tuesday’s temperature in Phoenix tied a record set in 1974 for 115 degrees F. The Arizona city is set to hit that high for the rest of the week, fueling wildfires in the state.

Houston reached 100 degrees F June 13, the earliest that mark has been reached in a decade, according to the weather service. That may signal an unusually hot summer coming as the city normally does not endure such heat until August.

Scorching summer heat waves, which climate scientists warn will become more commonplace in the coming decades, result in increased health risks.

Analyzing data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey and The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the homeowners’ website Porch Group published a forecast predicting that, because of climate change, by the year 2080 many counties in the U.S. can expect to see temperatures above 90 degrees F over 60 percent of the year.

Webb County, Texas, tops the list with an estimated 218 days above 90 degrees by 2080. Yuma County, Ariz., can expect 217 days per year above 90 degrees, while St. Lucie County, Fla., will break that temperature mark 193 days each year.

With wildfires already springing up months ahead of the traditional fire season in California, the rising temperatures will continue to dry out vegetation and further deplete reservoirs that are already experiencing record low levels.

“With high temperatures, we are going to get more evaporation and less water to use later on. We are obviously not going to get much rain anytime soon,” Mike Wofford, a meteorologist with the NWS in Oxnard, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times. “I am not sure how much worse it makes it. It is already pretty bad.”

Texas Girds for Blackouts as Heat Wave Rolls On

A Bloomberg report said:

Texas is pushing homes and businesses to conserve electricity for a second day in a row to stave off blackouts as a heat wave bakes the western U.S.

With many power plants unexpectedly down for repairs, officials warn the grid may fall short. It is the second time since the deadly February blackouts that Texas is pleading for conservation.

California grid operators warned that the state may be short of power later this week.

The searing weather marks the first heat-related stress tests of the year for U.S. power grids as a historic drought grips the western half of the U.S. It comes 10 months after California resorted to rolling blackouts last summer, briefly plunging more than a million people into darkness. In February, much of Texas was left without power for days during a winter storm that paralyzed power plants and left more than 100 people dead.

California’s grid operators warned Tuesday that power demand could outstrip supply for several days this week.

Canadian Border

Although California often relies on electricity from neighboring states during heat waves, this week’s heat is expected to stretch clear to the Canadian border, limiting imports, the grid operator said.

As the heat smothers Texas, generating plants with as much as 12.2 gigawatts of capacity – enough to power about 2.4 million homes – have been down for repairs. Prices on electricity for delivery around Texas jumped in Tuesday trading.

Texas grid operators are struggling to determine why so many plants are unexpectedly breaking down. The number of generators out of commission is triple what officials expect for this time of year.

“This is very concerning,” Warren Lasher, a senior director for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said during a briefing Monday. “It’s not clear why we are seeing so many units offline.”

Power Market

Texas lawmakers recently approved overhauls to stabilize the power market. Measures included requiring power plants ensure they can operate in extreme weather and provisions for state-backed financial assistance to the grid operator as well as utilities hit by soaring wholesale electricity prices.

In California, the heat pushed natural gas prices sharply higher amid surging electricity demand and weak hydropower generation. Gas for next-day delivery in Southern California was up 76% from a week ago, traders said Tuesday.

Adam Sinn, owner of power-trading firm Aspire Commodities LLC, said the number of power plants out of service was unacceptable. “This is not a sustainable situation,” he said.

In addition to the scorching temperatures, overnight lows in many areas remain extraordinarily high. That keeps pressure on power suppliers, as well as often raising the risks for people and plants.

In Death Valley in California, highs will likely reach 125 degrees F this week, falling only to 99 F at night.

California has ordered utilities to line up extra power supplies and giant batteries to prepare for this summer, but officials warn the system could still face shortfalls.

Not Just the U.S.


Infographic courtesy of the U.S. NOAA

It is not just the U.S. that is baking. Temperatures topped a record 125 degrees F in the Middle East last week, with five countries seeing temperatures exceed 122 degrees F. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted that the average land and ocean surface temperature across the world was 1.76 degrees above average in 2020 and that the Northern Hemisphere saw its warmest year ever, with temperature exceeding the 20th century average by 2.3 degrees.

“The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2005, and 7 of the 10 have occurred just since 2014,” NOAA says on its website.

Climate scientists have long warned that the number of record-high temperatures being recorded had begun outpacing record lows.

A 2009 study conducted by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research found that new record-setting high temperatures outpaced new record-low temperatures by a ratio of 2:1. Computer models have shown that that disparity will grow to 20:1 by 2050 and by 50:1 by 2100.

“In a stable climate, the ratio of new record highs to new record lows is approximately even. However, in our warming climate, record highs have begun to outpace record lows, with the imbalance growing for the past three decades,” the nonprofit group Climate Nexus says on its website. “This trend is one of the clearest signals of climate change that we experience directly.”

A study released in May found that more than one-third of the world’s heat deaths are now directly attributable to global warming.



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