More U.S. states broil in latest heat wave as climate change continues its impact

More than 25 million Americans are expected to endure temperatures topping 100 degrees this week as yet another heat wave descends on the country, adding more risks from wildfires already burning across the West.

Temperatures are forecast between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit above average in 19 states, with the potential for new records to be set in several locations. Heat advisories or alerts have been issued in 34 states, affecting more than 150 million people, and high humidity will also help push heat index values over the next several days to between 105 and 115 degrees in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and Houston, NBC News reported.

The Pacific Northwest, which already endured one heat dome this summer, is now facing a second one. After hitting 116 degrees in late June, temperatures in Portland, Ore., are expected to hit 104 degrees on Thursday, while inland areas of the state are forecast to reach 112. But this heat wave will affect an even greater area than the one in June. States in the mid-Atlantic and Midwest will also see triple-digit temperature readings.

In its new climate assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that thanks to rising average temperatures, extreme heat waves that had occurred only once every 50 years can now be expected once per decade.

“As the IPCC makes plain, the impacts of the climate crisis, from extreme heat to wildfires to intense rainfall and flooding, will only continue to intensify unless we choose another course for ourselves and generations to come,” John Kerry, President Biden’s special envoy for climate, said Monday.

Firefighters extinguish spot fires along Route 89 Dixie Fire in Moccasin, now over 200,000 acres, California, U.S., July 28, 2021.  REUTERS/David Swanson     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Firefighters at the Dixie Fire in Northern California on July 28. (David Swanson/Reuters)

With firefighters in Northern California battling the Dixie Fire, which has so far burned an area more than twice the size of New York City, the mixture of extreme drought conditions with extreme heat is poised to make the coming week extremely dangerous.

“The live trees that are out there now have a lower fuel moisture than you would find when you go to a hardware store or a lumberyard and get that piece of lumber that’s kiln-dried,” Mark Brunton of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said during a weekend briefing. “It’s that dry, so it doesn’t take much for any sort of embers, sparks or small flaming front to get that going.”

Nationwide, firefighters continue to battle more than 100 large fires, which scientists say are made more likely by climate change. The U.S. is far from the only country dealing with wildfires born of extreme temperatures. Russia is fighting more than 190 forest fires in Siberia, where temperatures reached 118 degrees in June.

“Obviously, there is only one reason: global climate change,” Aisen Nikolaev, head of the regional government in the Siberian republic of Sakha, told Yakutia 24 television. “We can see how it’s getting hotter in Yakutia every year. We are living through the hottest, driest summer in the history of meteorological measurements since the end of the 19th century.”

On the islands of Kos and Evia in Greece, wildfires — fueled by a record-breaking heat wave that saw temperatures reach 117 degrees — have burned more than 120,000 acres and driven hundreds of people from their homes.

In Turkey, which was also in the grip of a heat wave, hundreds of wildfires have forced tourists and residents to evacuate.

On Wednesday, Sicily may have set a temperature record for the European continent, hitting 119.7 degrees.

Back in Portland, a return to extreme heat means greater health risks, especially for the elderly population and those with preexisting conditions.

“With the widespread heat expected, there is an enhanced risk to sensitive groups. Drink lots of water, check on neighbors, friends and family often, and locate to a cool space during the peak heating time frames,” the Weather Service in Portland wrote in an advisory.

In response to the threat posed by the rising temperatures that are expected to top 100 degrees from Wednesday through Saturday, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has already declared a state of emergency.

“Oregon is facing yet another extreme heat wave, and it is critical that every level of government has the resources they need to help keep Oregonians safe and healthy,” Brown said in a statement. “I encourage Oregonians to take proactive steps to keep themselves and their families safe, including drinking plenty of fluids, taking advantage of cooling centers, and checking in on neighbors, friends, and loved ones.”

In a year when six major heat waves have already affected the region thanks in part to climate change, that state of emergency is beginning to feel more like the new normal.


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