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Heatwaves in the Northern U.S.

The drastic effects of climate change have been seen recently in the northern regions of the US. The Pacific Northwest, a region that usually experiences mild summers, has been heavily affected in particular. Rising temperatures are expected from the Pacific Northwest to the Northwest to as far as the Arctic Circle.

In the Pacific Northwest, a historic heatwave is set to hit Washington, Oregon, most of Idaho, and parts of Northern California, shattering previous high temperature records. Several heat warnings have been issued in this area because extreme temperatures are expected to remain for a long period of time with little nighttime relief. A heat dome has formed as a result of a large ridge of high pressure moving over the Northwest, acting like an oven. Although hot air rises, the high pressure forces the hot air back down, similar to a lid on a pot, causing it to be heated further. As the air circulates, temperatures will rise quickly within the region of the heat dome.

Image Credit: James Day

Washington and Oregon in particular are unprepared for the extreme rise in temperatures. According to a US Census Bureau survey of 25 major metropolitan areas, Seattle and Portland rank first and third respectively among cities without air conditioning. Areas predominantly without air conditioning are often underserved communities of color that live in urban “heat islands.” Low-income and non-white communities tend to live in areas without tree cover, green spaces, and cooling centers. Many of these people also work blue collar jobs, where they are exposed to heat for hours, and live in multigenerational households, the crowding adding to the warmth.

Officials are warning of the dangers presented by the excessive heat. Heat-related deaths are the most obvious danger, but there are many more. Warm air does not necessarily mean warm water, so lakes and rivers could cause muscle shock, increasing the risk of drowning. Melting snow packs also creates hazards for hikers at higher elevations as melting ice can cause avalanches.

While the Northwest is expected to experience dry heat, the Northwest is expected to experience muggy heat. A heat wave has developed and persisted over the Northeast to Mid-Atlantic. The high humidity is expected to continue as southwesterly winds bring subtropical moist air into the region. The moist air will insulate the heat, leading to higher temperatures.



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