Record-high temperatures scorch Western states in preview of climate change future

·Senior Editor
·4-min read

A week of triple-digit temperatures made worse by climate change is forecast across much of the American West this week, with records poised to fall in several towns, cities and states across the drought-plagued region

Scorching summer heat waves, which climate scientists warn will become become more commonplace in the coming decades, result in increased health risks. A study released in May found that more than one-third of the world’s heat deaths are now directly attributable to global warming

On Monday, 43 million people found themselves under heat alerts in the U.S. 

The National Weather Service warned that the record-high temperature of 117 degrees in Las Vegas was in danger of being broken. 

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Records may also fall in places like Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, southern Nevada and much of California. 

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It's not just the United States that is baking. Temperatures topped a record 125 degrees in the Middle East last week, with five countries seeing temperatures exceed 122 degrees. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration noted that the average land and ocean surface temperature across the world was 1.76 degrees above average in 2020 and that the Northern Hemisphere saw its warmest year ever, with temperature exceeding the 20th century average by 2.3 degrees. 

“The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2005, and 7 of the 10 have occurred just since 2014,” NOAA says on its website

Global surface temperatures since 1880
Infographic courtesy of NOAA

Climate scientists have long warned that, thanks to the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, the number of record-high temperatures being recorded had begun outpacing record lows. 

A 2009 study conducted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research found that new record-setting high temperatures outpaced new record-low temperatures by a ratio of 2:1. Computer models have shown that that disparity will grow to 20:1 by 2050 and by 50:1 by 2100. 

“In a stable climate, the ratio of new record highs to new record lows is approximately even. However, in our warming climate, record highs have begun to outpace record lows, with the imbalance growing for the past three decades,” the nonprofit group Climate Nexus says on its website. “This trend is one of the clearest signals of climate change that we experience directly.”

Analyzing data provided by the United States Geological Survey and NOAA, the homeowners' website Porch Group published a forecast predicting that, because of climate change, by the year 2080 many counties in the U.S. can expect to see temperatures above 90 degrees over 60 percent of the year

Webb County, Texas, tops the list with an estimated 218 days above 90 degrees by 2080. Yuma County, Ariz., can expect 217 days per year above 90 degrees, while St. Lucie County, Fla., will break that temperature mark 193 days each year. 

With wildfires already springing up months ahead of the traditional fire season in California, the rising temperatures will continue to dry out vegetation and further deplete reservoirs that are already experiencing record low levels. 

“With high temperatures, we’re going to get more evaporation and less water to use later on. We’re obviously not going to get much rain anytime soon,” Mike Wofford, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m not sure how much worse it makes it. It’s already pretty bad.”

Cover photo: Aly Song/Reuters

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