Mutually worsening heat and drought, both fueled by climate change, are stifling the American West, stoking wildfire fears and straining electrical grids — and the worst is far from over. “We could have two, three, four, five of these heat waves before the end of the summer,” Park Williams, a UCLA climate and fire scientist who has calculated that heat waves are intensifying because soil in the western half of the nation is the driest it has been since 1895, told the AP.
A record-breaking heatwave trapped by an area of high atmospheric pressure, known as a heat dome, is pushing temperatures as much as 30°F above normal and subjecting 40 million people to temperatures over 100°F. Doctors in Arizona and Nevada warned touching pavement could cause third degree burns. Extreme heat and heat waves are some of the clearest impacts of climate change on extreme weather and kill as many as 5,600 people living in the U.S. every year. The human health harms caused by extreme heat heighten societal inequities — extreme heat danger is often worst in historically redlined neighborhoods.
The extreme heat is also straining electrical grids. California grid operators called for voluntary demand reduction and, for the second time in four months, Texas grid operators are asking their customers to reduce their energy usage — including using less air conditioning and putting off cooking and washing their clothes — prompting jokes that Sen. Ted Cruz would soon be flying to Alaska.
‘This is as about as good as it’s going to get’
The intense heat and drought are fueling wildfires across the region and stoking fears that more will come as the season is just starting. And so is the warming. “We’re still a long way out from the peak of the wildfire season and the peak of the dry season,” Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist, told the New York Times. “Things are likely to get worse before they get better.”
Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, agreed. “The Southwest is getting hammered by climate change harder than almost any other part of the country, apart from perhaps coastal cities,” he told the New York Times. “And as bad as it might seem today, this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.” (Heat wave: New York Times $, AP, Washington Post $, Reuters, CNN, San Francisco Chronicle, Bloomberg $, Axios; Burns: AP; Grid crunch: (The Guardian, Bloomberg $, Reuters; Ted Cruz memes: Buzzfeed; Fires in: North Dakota: AP; Montana: AP; Idaho: AP; Nevada: AP; Arizona: AP; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves; Drought; Wildfires)