500 Days of Summer: We’re Having a Heat Wave, a Tropical — and Subtropical — Heat Wave

States hit hardest by heat wave cut or cancel programs to help poor people cool their homes

One of the most brutal heatwaves in recent memory has been met with denial by right-wingers (see “Limbaugh Calls Heat Index a Liberal Government Conspiracy“).

Now, the Washington Post reports that “Many states hit hardest by this week’s searing heat wave have drastically cut or entirely eliminated programs that help poor people pay their electric bills, forcing thousands to go without air conditioning when they need it most. Oklahoma ran out of money in just three days.”  Hard to believe we’re the richest country in the world.

The U.S. is, in some sense, being slammed by two different heatwaves —  a tropical heatwave with staggering humidity that is driving up the heat index to deadly levels and a ‘subtropical heatwave’ with staggering aridity that turns a drought into a Dust Bowl.

Of the tropical heat wave, meteorologist Dr. Jeff Masters writes:

Wunderground’s climate change blogger Dr. Ricky Rood in his latest post, [explains that] with hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland still inundated by flood waters, and soils saturated over much of the Upper Midwest, there has been plenty of water available to evaporate into the air and cause remarkably high humdities. This makes for a very dangerous situation, as the human body is not able to cool itself as efficiently when the humidity is high.

At the same time, it is a basic prediction of climate science that the subtropics will expand (see the Geophysical Research Letters paper “Cause of the widening of the tropical belt since 1958“).  I used to call that desertification until some readers pointed out that some deserts are full of life, which isn’t where we’re headed.  That’s why I now call it Dust-Bowlification.

Speaking of Dust Bowls, I noted last week that the Texas drought is now far, far worse than when Gov. Rick Perry issued a Proclamation calling on all Texans to pray for rain.  The latest U.S. Drought Monitor is out, and, incredibly, the Texas drought got even worse:

Now a stunning 75% of the state is under “exceptional drought” and 91% is under “extreme drought.”

For those of you who think the weather of 2011 is somehow normal or that we’ve seen it before — say, in the 1930s —  Weather Channel meteorologist Stu Ostro begs to differ in his piece, “The ridge, heat, humidity, drought, and Dust Bowl:

What happened in the 1930s and other decades reinforces that there have always been extremes in weather, and there is always natural variability at play. What’s changing now is the nature of those extremes, and also what’s important is the context.This time, the extreme drought, heat, and wildfires are occurring along with U.S. extremes this year in rainfall, snowfall, flooding, and tornadoes, and many other stunning temperature and precipitation extremes elsewhere in the world in recent years as well as, as I posted on my TWC Facebook “fan” page, record-shattering 500 millibar heights in high latitudes. And all of this is happening while there’s an alarming drop in the amount of Arctic sea ice.

The nature and context of the extremes is the difference between the 1930s and now.

I also recommend a HuffPost piece by water and climate scientist Peter Gleick, “It’s Hotter Than It Used to Be; It’s Not as Hot as It’s Going to Be.”

Finally, Heidi Cullen, a scientist at Climate Central, and author of The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes From a Climate-Changed Planet, has a good NY Times op-ed, “Sizzle Factor for a Restless Climate“:

Drawing from methods used in epidemiology, a field of climate research called “detection and attribution” tests how human actions like burning fossil fuels affect climate and increase the odds of extreme weather events.Heat-trapping pollution at least doubled the likelihood of the infamous European heat wave that killed more than 30,000 people during the summer of 2003, according to a study in the journal Nature in 2004. And if we don’t ease our grip on the climate, summers like that one will likely happen every other year by 2040, the study warned. Human actions have warmed the climate on all seven continents, and as a result all weather is now occurring in an environment that bears humanity’s signature, with warmer air and seas and more moisture than there was just a few decades ago, resulting in more extreme weather.

The snapshots of climate history from NOAA can also provide a glimpse of what’s in store locally in the future. Using climate models, we can project what future Julys might look like. For example, by 2050, assuming we continue to pump heat-trapping pollution into our atmosphere at a rate similar to today’s, New Yorkers can expect the number of July days exceeding 90 degrees to double, and those exceeding 95 degrees to roughly triple. Sweltering days in excess of 100 degrees, rare now, will become a regular feature of the Big Apple’s climate in the 2050s.

In short, get used to it!

Related Posts:

The tropics and much of the Northern Hemisphere are likely to experience an irreversible rise in summer temperatures within the next 20 to 60 years if atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, according to a new climate study by Stanford University scientists…. “According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years,” said the study’s lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh


Below are earlier comments from the previous Facebook commenting system:

Paul Magnus

Is Inhofe trying to build his igloo still?

July 21 at 8:34pm

Leif Erik Knutsen

Because the GOP came out and accused the Democratic Health care proposal of pulling the plug on Granny, it is now all good to pull the plug on the old, infirm and poor. Way to go there GOP, just don’t cut the taxes for the wealthy.

July 21 at 8:47pm

Julia Kuglen

Leif, did you read Kristof’s column in the NY Times (“Bonuses for Billionaires”)? Of course, the deniers and obstructionists among the GOP (which appear to be almost all of the currently elected members)–and, sadly, among the Dems as well, though fortunately in fewer numbers–are pulling the plug on all of us–including themselves and their own descendants– through their lack of effective action on climate change.

July 22 at 10:17am

Craig Gundacker

I live in Minneapolis so I’m accustomed to heat waves. But that was like nothing I’ve ever experienced here. I don’t like air conditioning so never bothered to install a unit at my place. Six days ago, looking over the weather forecasts, reading the projected temperatures and dew points, I was tempted to buy one before this natural furnace kicked on.

But honestly, I’m glad I didn’t. Because it allowed me to sense deep in my skin what a climate changed future will feel like. For the first time, I really began to understand what this all means. It means that the world I once knew will be no more. It means that everything I took as given will be unknown. And it means that for the rest of my days on earth, I will have to live with the knowledge that none of the horrors that are going to unfold in the next decades ever had to happen.

July 21 at 8:50pm

Colorado Bob

Craig –
You guys booked an 88F degree dew point , those are un-heard of numbers. Last winter you got the low pressure record, last year your guys in Minn. said it was the wettest on record , This is bigger than your station, we all are booking big numbers .

July 21 at 11:48pm

Colorado Bob

Last month ,. Vegas booked the lowest dew point ever seen there . Think the 2 are related ?

July 22 at 12:01am


Triple digit breakthrough!
A commenter at WeatherUnderground reports that it was 100 F in Toronto today, the highest temperature ever recorded there.

July 21 at 9:06pm

Bob Geiger

Craig’s comments are fascinating. Even those of us who know the issue well, think and feel differently about it when we actually experience the force of climate change with our senses and our bodies. Is this what it will take before we address the issue? Will that be too late? Here’s a thought. Last year the summer and the weather was bad and this year is bad. Jim Hansen has predicted that if an El Nino kicks in 2012 will be the hottest on record. If that happens and it’s even worse in the US next year, could the issue finally get people’s attention in the presidential race? Just asking.

July 21 at 10:35pm

George Ennis

Actually no. I think what we need to understand is that most people in North America have been able to insulate themselves from the worst effects of climate change i.e. through air conditioning and being able to pay higher prices for food. There is no impetus for change.

I was born in Newfoundland, Canada and I remember growing up learning about the Great Northern Cod fishery. When governments were warned about overfishing of the fishery by scientists they chose to ignore the best information possible. What happened was not a decline in the fishery but instead a collapse which decades later it has never recovered from. I remember thinking well at least the world will learn from this experience but unfortunately no such thing has happened and if anything the world has doubled down on its efforts to destroy ecosystems throughout the world.

So I suspect that yes Americans and Canadians will change but only as they stand in the ruins of their communities as a result of collapse brought about by climate change.

July 22 at 11:27am

Bailey Struss

I saw that the heat index (that liberal conspiracy term), was 110 deg in Washington today. Ya think that was warm enough to fry some sense into those government brains? I doubt it, because ‘no brain, no pain.’

July 21 at 11:10pm

Virginia Cotts Rn Bsn

I’m dreaming of a brown Christmas, unlike the ones I used to know…

Especially the ones in Chicago, ’52 -’65. And Anchorage, ’83 – ’93.

July 21 at 11:13pm

Colorado Bob

Joe –
Same paper chain from the Texas Pan-Handle.
Lubbock breaks record for most days over 100.
Lubbock broke its all-time yearly record for days above the century mark with a high of 101 degrees Wednesday.​ocal-news/2011-07-20/lubbo​ck-breaks-record-most-days​-over-100

Then Amarillo did the same thing , but they never wanted to say it –

City matches annual 100-degree-day total –
“It gets worse beyond city limits. Guymon, Okla., has had 33 days, according to Amarillo’s National Weather Service office, while Childress, 120 miles southeast, has had 55 days – nearly two full months – in triple digits, including 117 on June 26. Childress has been at 100 or higher for 29 consecutive days.”​ocal-news/2011-07-21/city-​matches-annual-100-degree-​day-total

July 21 at 11:57pm

Aquaria Austin

And they still have at least another month of summer to go. Yikes!

July 24 at 1:49pm

Colorado Bob

These dew point numbers are a big deal, all that missing heat is running around in them.

July 22 at 12:04am

Colorado Bob

” Where is the sea level rise? ” It’s in the atmosphere.
The earth went with evaporation to transport the heat. This is being expressed as a 30cm. rain in one hour in Montreal.
Then, 3 days later it rained 7 inches in Akron.

July 22 at 12:12am

Colorado Bob

I have watched crap for years, and I have never 11.81 inches in an hour.

July 22 at 12:16am

Colorado Bob

I have this friend at NewsVine, his handle is true, Physicist Retired.
I asked him the question,…… How hard can it rain? There is no answer to this.
He’s away at the 150th Birthday of “Bull Run “, and bless him,
But he can’t understand the 11.81 inch rain any better than I can.

July 22 at 12:27am

Colorado Bob

What I can’t believe , there is no answer to how hard it can rain. Certainly an 88F degree dew point will supply every drop we need to answer the question.

July 22 at 12:59am


Germany’s biggest internet news source is still ignoring the topic of climate change. In the last paragraph the authors mentions that heat waves are nothing extraordinary in the US.


July 22 at 5:47am

Julia Kuglen

Oklahoma’s governor is now asking people to pray for rain.

July 22 at 10:45am

Peter S. Mizla

They will need more then a prayer.

July 22 at 11:22am

Julia Kuglen

I think it’s an inappropriate request from an elected official, especially if the official isn’t pursuing science-based solutions.

July 22 at 12:08pm

Bryan Short

Craig… I’m in Bemidji 220 miles north of you. We were spared the worst of the heatwave and the temperature never broke 90˚F… though we did have upper 80s with a dew point in the upper 70s. That was miserable for us with our average high of 79˚F and low of 57˚F. That said, the summer so far has been a tad cooler than normal. What’s good for us in Minnesota is that La Niña is likely to come back again, which will likely give us a balmy autumn and a good old fashioned cold, snowy winter. I feel for you down in the Tropical Twin Cities ;-). But then, we pay the price from October-April.. especially in the spring, when it can be beautiful and 75 and sunny in the Cities and 30 with wind driven snow here. The difference between northern and southern Minnesota is probably bigger than the difference between Minneapolis and Memphis.

July 23 at 5:25pm

Frank Kelly

@Craig Gundracker.
My thoughts exactly. I have deliberately let myself feel the full effects of our much less severe heat (warmest day yet 37C) here in Toronto and it is alarming to think how much worse this is for you in the mid-west and south U.S., how much more of this kind of thing might be in store. It is frightening to think of what might happen to my own grandchildren’s generation if they ever ran out of all the artificial temperature control energy we so wastefully use now to fend off our “discomfort” on a mere 25C to 30C day.

July 23 at 10:34pm

Larry White

All the folks praying for rain WILL be vindicated as it will rain – sometime. Then they can say their prayers were answered. If there is a god surely it knows what ought to be done and will do it without all the begging. If it just doesn’t want to I don’t really see how begging is going to help.

July 24 at 1:13am

Comments are closed.