Death Valley is no stranger to scorching temperatures, but the heat gripping the park and surrounding area still stands out for its intensity and scope. The park is expected to see temperatures climb as high as 49 degrees Celsius this week thanks to a heat wave that’s toppling records from coast-to-coast.
The U.S. has had one serious, widespread heat wave this season in addition to numerous smaller-scale bouts of hot weather. During the July scorcher, 290 million people faced temperatures above 32 degrees Celsius.
This week’s heat wave also has a pretty massive footprint in terms of geography and population. According to USA Today, 100 million Americans could see temperatures ratchet up above 38 degrees Celsius this week. Death Valley is a notable hot spot, but other temperatures still stand out.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a broad portion of the Southwest from Palm Springs to Las Vegas, to Tucson will see temperatures between 38-49 degrees Celsius over the next few days.
Basically, the entire region between those three cities is under an excessive heat warning, which the agency’s Flagstaff office noted “is reserved for only the hottest days of the year and is issued when temperatures are expected to rise to dangerous levels.”
The Southwest is only one epicentre of extreme heat, though. Another sits camped over Oklahoma and Arkansas and extends across other parts of the South. There, the heat index — a metric that factors in temperature and humidity—is expected to top out as high as 47 degrees Celsius. Once you pass 38 degrees Celsius, I don’t care if it’s a dry or wet heat. The end result is prolific sweat (and also potentially life-threatening heat-induced illnesses).
Even the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic will feel the burn. Philadelphia is under a heat advisory through Wednesday evening and on Monday, Washington, D.C., tied its daily temperature record of 37 degrees Celsius. The nation’s capital also dealt with a heat index of 41 degrees Celsius and more of the same is likely for the next few days.
The setup driving the remarkable heat is the same as with heat waves of the past. Namely, a huge dome of high pressure has parked itself over the south-central U.S.. That’s ushering in sunny skies and baking in extremely hot conditions. On the East Coast at least, the spell will be broken by a cold front arriving just in time for the weekend that will knock temperatures back down to seasonal averages or even a few degrees cooler than normal. The Southwest, however, will likely have to contend with heat until early next week.
There’s some evidence climate change is causing these types of “stuck” weather patterns to become more common, though it’s still an area of active research. But the vast majority of research shows that almost all heat waves are inevitably getting a boost from our increasing planetary fever driven by carbon pollution. Analyses of the recent July heat wave in Europe, for example, show that climate change made it 100 times more likely by boosting background temperatures.