What is a heat dome? There is one roasting Texas and the Midwest.
Extreme heat warnings are in effect for about 143 million Americans this week, due to a heat dome swirling over the Midwest, South and Southwest. This dangerous heat has already broken temperature records dating back to at least the 1950s, according to weather trackers.
The “August heat wave,” in the words of the National Weather Service, is expected to continue in at least 22 states through the weekend, and “many” temperatures and heat indices are likely to be recorded.
The Heat Index calculates the “real” temperature which includes the effects of humidity. For example, the temperature in Dallas-Fort Worth reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday when measuring only air temperature, not humidity, as the metro area entered the 40th consecutive day of temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the way, Austin endured 44 consecutive days of temperatures above 100 degrees Celsius. F, breaking the old record of 27 days.
“The heat dome over the central United States is unusually strong, even by midsummer standards,” according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jake Sogda. A unique combination of intense heat and sunlight, light winds under the center of the heat dome, and evapotranspiration—a process by which plants release water, sometimes referred to as “corn sweat”—from corn and other crops that are now ripening in late summer also results in very high humidity. Accompanied by heat.
Texas wasn’t the only hot spot. The heat index approached 127 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of Oklahoma and as high as 134 degrees Fahrenheit in Lawrence, Kansas.
Far South Texas found some drop in temperatures, though it had to brace for dangerous winds, when Tropical Storm Harold hit I arrived at the beach early Tuesdaythe first hurricane of the 2023 Atlantic season to make landfall.
August’s temperature lines track the hottest July on record. July recorded record electricity usage in the state of Texas, which operates its own electrical grid. High temperature forecasts can be incorporated into energy use plans and Texas typically has hot summers. But a string of consecutive days of extreme temperatures puts enormous strain on utilities and power lines, at the same time that air conditioning becomes critical to health and safety.
“Any power outages due to high stress on the power grid could limit the availability of air conditioning and a way to escape the heat for some, increasing the risk of extreme heat,” Sogda said.
Definition of heat domes
A heat dome occurs when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air like a blanket over a specific area. It is associated with jet stream obstruction.
Climate change, which is warming our oceans along with regular patterns of El Niño and La Niña, is seen as a contributing factor to extreme heat. Scientists always emphasize the difference between short-term weather and long-term climate change, and stress that the impact of climate change on blocking jet stream patterns is an active area of research.
But it is the increasing frequency and alarming intensity of extreme weather events that scientists link to global warming caused by human activity as a result of the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas, as a result of carbon dioxide and other emissions. Increasingly, the number of new record high temperatures exceeds the number of record lows.
A team of scientists funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s MAPP Program investigated the causes of the appearance of heat domes and found that the main cause was the strong west-to-east change in ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific during the previous winter.
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As NOAA scientists explain, imagine a swimming pool with the heater on. Temperatures rise quickly in the areas around the heater jets, while the rest of the pool takes longer to warm up. If one thinks of the Pacific Ocean as a very large basin, temperatures in the western Pacific have risen over the past few decades compared to the eastern Pacific, creating a strong temperature gradient, or pressure differences, that push winds across the entire ocean in the winter.
In a process known as convection, the gradient causes warm air, heated by the ocean surface, to rise over the western Pacific, and reduce convection over the central and eastern Pacific. As prevailing winds move hot air eastward, the jet stream’s northward shifts trap the air and move it toward land, where it sinks, creating heat waves.
Drought conditions can have their own impact. When drought conditions are in place, dry soil heats up more easily than wet soil, contributing to higher temperatures near the ground. As the climate warms, soil dries more quickly and the risk of drought increases, reinforcing the cycle.
(Read more about the relationship between carbon dioxide and long-term temperatures, and click here for city-by-city temperature trends.)
Apparently that’s the power of this special heat dome topping One occurred during August 1936, which was in the midst of the “dust-fall” that contributed to the Great Depression.
When can relief be expected?
“Over the second half of the week, the northern circumference of the heat dome will gradually erode as multiple waves of energy from Canada and the Pacific begin to bring cold air back into the region,” AccuWeather’s Sogda said. “However, most of this relief will not reach parts of the central Plains and southern U.S. until the end of this week or early next week as the powerful heat dome will retreat southward.”
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