CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Much of the Midwest has been roasting in a late-season heat wave this week, catching residents off-guard and creating major headaches across the region. Multiple temperature records were broken in Minnesota, Nebraska, and Kansas and on Friday, much of the region from Oklahoma City to Chicago was expected to roast in the mid-upper 90s to low 100s.
Noting the “very unusual” timing and intensity of the heat wave, University of Minnesota climatologist Mark Seely told MPR News that “August was very, very extreme in its behavior with respect to temperature.”
Here are four of the ways this abnormal event is taking a toll on the region:
1. Forcing school closures. The first week back to school was an unpleasant one for many students. Stifling heat and humidity — coupled with a lack of air conditioning — forced several schools throughout the region to cancel classes. Minnesota’s largest school district called off classes in 27 buildings on Thursday and Friday, with several schools in Colorado, Nebraska, and Iowa forced to do the same, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Trent Kelly, technology and operations director for the Hastings, Nebraska school district, told the Monitor, “I’ve been here 12 years, and I don’t remember ever doing (early dismissals) for this long a period.”
2. Causing a ‘flash drought.’ As the Wall Street Journal reported, “the federal Drought Monitor showed that one-quarter of the Midwest region, which includes the heart of the nation’s Farm Belt, was in some level of drought as of Tuesday, up sharply from 7.9 percent the previous week.” The heat, and subsequent drought, could have major implications for a part of the country that relies heavily on agriculture — this week the drought expanded to 45 percent of U.S. corn-growing areas, for example, up from 25 percent the prior week.
3. Driving grain prices up. The region’s extreme weather prompted a spike in grain prices this week, as the late-summer heat wave and prolonged drought threatens to reduce corn and soybean crops. As the Financial Times reported, “the heat revived memories of the devastating drought in the US last year, which slashed grain output and sent prices soaring.” Noting the particular sensitivity of soybeans to temperature fluctuations, David Tolleris of WxRisk.com concluded, “given that it is late August and early September the heat can only be called extreme or record breaking.”
4. Impacting working conditions. Temperatures reached 110 degrees inside a Grandview, Missouri dry cleaning plant this week, putting an added strain on workers. “Unless you work in it, or unless you come in here, I really don’t think you can comprehend how it is, and how hard it is to work in these conditions,” plant manager Alicia McDonnell told local KMBC-TV. And in Omaha, Nebraska, trash collectors were forced to slow down and take more breaks as regional heat indexes ranged from 100 to 109 degrees. Regulators for Occupational Safety and Health Administration regard a heat index of 103 to 115 degrees as a high risk to outdoor workers.
While the sudden, extreme heat and humidity came as a jolt to Midwesterners, such events may soon be commonplace. The government’s draft National Climate Assessment, released earlier this year, had some stark predictions: summertime heat waves are projected to become longer and hotter, whereas the trend of decreasing wintertime cold snaps is projected to continue. In addition to posing a major threat to the nation’s energy supply and related infrastructure, increasingly common and severe extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, are a serious concern for public health.