The sky was clear and there was a light, northerly wind on the morning of July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia — the date of the United States’ independence and the early years of the industrial revolution. Temperatures were moderate, with a high in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, according to records kept by Thomas Jefferson and a few others at the time.
Now, 242 years later, it’s a very different story. For the past week, scorching heat has broken temperature records around the world and has resulted in the death of more than a dozen people in North America. On July 3, there were nearly 100 heat warnings across Eastern Canada — a warning for Toronto called it “the most significant heat event in the past few years.” An estimated 80 million people in the U.S. also remained under heat advisories and warnings.
In Montreal, where nighttime temperatures haven’t recently dipped below roughly 70°F, at least 17 deaths have been linked to the extreme heat. In the U.S., a woman reportedly died on June 30 in Pennsylvania after going into cardiac arrest due to the heat. And in New York, a 30-year-old man collapsed while running a race — his internal body temperature measured 108°F at the hospital.
From the U.S. and Canada to the UK, Ireland, Russia, Oman, Georgia, and Armenia, records began breaking last Thursday.
On June 28, Denver, Colorado tied its all-time high-temperature record of 104.9°F. Other cities that broke their daily record-high temperature that day include Pueblo, Colorado (106°F), Scottsbluff, Nebraska (105°F), and Cheyenne, Wyoming (99°F).
Across the pond, Scotland provisionally set its hottest ever temperature when Motherwell, a town just southeast of Glasgow, hit 91.7°F on June 28. Glasgow had its hottest day on record (89.4°F), as did Shannon, Ireland (89.6°F). Belfast, the capitol of Northern Ireland, also hit a record that day (85.1°F) while the village of Castlederg in Northern Ireland broke its record when temperatures reached 86.1°F.
At the end of last week in Quriyat, a small fishing village on the northeast coast of Oman, people experienced 51 straight hours of temperatures above 108.7°F — making this the hottest low temperature recorded on earth.
The streak continued over the weekend and into this week. On June 29, Gaylord, Michigan set a daily record high (93°F) while Sioux Falls, South Dakota tied its daily record for its warmest low temperature (75°F). The next day, June 30, Alpena, Michigan (99°F) and Burlington, Vermont (93°F) reached temperatures tied with their respective daily record highs.
Keene, New Hampshire’s daily record of 100°F, first set in 1913, was broken on July 1 when temperatures there reached 102°F. A new record was also set that day in Allentown, Pennsylvania with 98°F. And Burlington once again tied its daily record high (96°F) — the temperature streak continued for six days.
The trend of cities breaking their records continued on Monday, July 2, in Montreal (97.8°F record daily high), Burlington (80.6°F, its record warmest low temperature ever), and Mount Washington, New Hampshire (59.9°F, tied for its all-time warmest low temperature). Also on July 2, Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, reached a record high for the month when temperatures hit 107.6°F.
On July 4, the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi, hit an all-time record at 104.9°F. And Buffalo, New York broke its 1988 record with a temperature of 93°F.
Many are asking: is this climate change?
Just like with extreme storms, no single record can be specifically attributed to climate change. However, taken together, these more than 20 different heat records spanning the globe this past week are consistent with what scientists say can be expected from climate change.
Carbon Brief last year reviewed more than 140 scientific studies looking at weather events around the world and examining the link between heatwaves and climate change. It found that 85 percent of these studies showed the events had been made more likely or more severe because of global warming.
And according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC), it’s likely that heatwaves have increased across Europe, Asia, and Australia. “It is now very likely that human influence has contributed to observed global scale changes in the frequency and intensity of daily temperature extremes since the mid-20th century,” it says in its Fifth Assessment, “and likely that human influence has more than doubled the probability of occurrence of heat waves in some locations.”
— IPCC (@IPCC_CH) July 3, 2018
As climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe highlighted on Twitter, “The proof of global warming is NOT a single heatwave. It’s based on observations of tens of thousands of aspects of the climate system over decades and centuries.”
So while these record-breaking temperatures look like the sort of thing we’d expect from a warming world, what does this mean for people’s everyday lives?
In England and Ireland, it includes water shortages. Restrictions have been imposed in Ireland, with the head of utility company Irish Water, Jerry Grant, calling it a “crisis situation.” And the water in parts of the River Teme — which straddles England and Wales — has “all but disappeared due to the heatwave,” the BBC reported on July 5.
There has also been a reported 40 percent spike in calls to Britain’s asthma hotline during the heatwave. (One shred of good news came from the country’s solar industry — solar power briefly became Britain’s top energy source at the end of June.)
— Met Office (@metoffice) July 3, 2018
Meanwhile, in Newark, a temporary homeless shelter closed down resulting in more than 180 people without a place to stay on one of the hottest days of the year.
Pools in some cities in the U.S. and Canada extended their hours to help offer some respite from the heat. And in Philadelphia, sunscreen stations helped people cope with the sizzling sunshine.
— Bon Ku, MD, MPP (@BonKu) July 3, 2018
Yet, during the midst of the week’s scorching weather, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reportedly scrubbed mentions of climate change’s impact on occupational safety and health, including how extreme weather could have negative health impacts.
Record heat in the triple-digits is expected to shift toward southern California at the end of this week and over the weekend. Northern California is currently experiencing wildfires, at the same time as the Southwest monsoon is expected to bring showers and thunderstorms. With this comes gusty winds — which, combined with high temperatures, can increase the risk of wildfires.