Extreme Weather Fries U.S. Midwest, Floods Southwest
July might have been the hottest month on record, but August is bringing some extreme weather of its own, fueled by the El Niño weather pattern and climate change-driven high temperatures. As of today, 23 August 2023, 99,964,263 people in the United States are currently under extreme weather alerts, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the United States is hardly the only country facing some extreme climate risks.
Here’s a quick roundup of some of the major meteorological events at the moment.
Heavy Rainfall and Flooding Drench U.S. Southwest
Who expects a mass flood in a desert? Tropical Storm Hilary brought heavy rain into Southern California and parts of Nevada over the weekend, resulting in widespread flooding and reports of mudslides.
Hilary first made landfall as a hurricane on 20 August, dropping a record 13 inches of rain in 24 hours over Baja California Sur, Mexico, before turning into a tropical storm.
“Hot water and hot air were both crucial factors that enabled Hilary’s rapid growth—steering it on an unusual but not quite unprecedented path that dumped rain in some normally bone-dry places,” the Associated Press reported. In Death Valley National Park, the storm dumped the equivalent of a year’s worth of rain. In some places along the storm’s path, floodwaters reached 5 feet high.
California last experienced a tropical storm in September 1939.
Extreme Heat Hits U.S. Midwest, Parts of Europe, Asia
Extreme heat is blanketing a wide swath of the United States this week, with record-breaking temperatures from the Midwest to the Gulf Coast kept in place for an extended time thanks to a heat dome—a persistent region of high pressure trapping heat over a particular area.
Temperatures are expected to reach into the upper 90s and low 100s Fahrenheit (32-37+ Celsius) through Thursday, 24 August. Heat alerts have been issued in 22 U.S. states.
“When factoring in brutal humidity levels, maximum heat indices could approach 120 degrees,” according to the National Weather Service. “While it is not uncommon for August to feature dangerous heat, these temperatures are extremely anomalous and likely to break numerous daily and potentially monthly records. In fact, highs are forecast to reach up to 20 degrees above average throughout Iowa and neighboring states today. Very warm overnight temperatures only dropping into the upper 70s and low 80s will compound the impacts associated with this potentially deadly heat wave.”
The U.S. Midwest isn’t the only region experiencing record-breaking heat this month. France widened a heatwave red alert this week, urging mountain climbers to postpone their activities and advising grape pickers to start and end their work early to avoid extreme heat exposure, Reuters reported. The high temperatures are affecting large parts of France and are expected to peak at 42 degrees Celsius (107 Fahrenheit) today or tomorrow.
The extreme heat alert gives local authorities leeway to cancel sporting or cultural events and close public facilities if needed.
The scorching heat is also damaging grape vines, which will lead to a decreased wine output this year, wine producers told reporters.
Meanwhile, extreme heat has been affecting South Korea and Japan during the past month, and Japan marked its hottest day of the year on 5 August, with the temperature hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Date, Fukushima Prefecture.
The First of Many Atlantic Storms Makes Landfall
Thousands of homes and businesses in Corpus Christi, Texas, were without power yesterday after Tropical Storm Harold made landfall. The storm never reached hurricane status, but it brought strong winds, pockets of heavy rainfall, and cooler temperatures, AP reported.
The National Hurricane Center is now tracking multiple tropical systems that could turn into hurricanes, including five systems that sprung up in quick succession, The Washington Post noted earlier this week. Tropical Storm Franklin is nearing Hispaniola and is likely to provide heavy rainfall that could lead to life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. The storm is also bringing tropical storm conditions to parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Relentless Rain Causes Deadly Landslides in India
Days of rain in the Himalayan region of India killed at least 72 people last week after a heavy monsoon triggered landslides and flash floods, according to the AP. A cloudburst—sudden, very heavy rain—left roads flooded and people stranded with no warning, and some homes were washed away.
It will likely take a year to rebuild infrastructure washed away by the monsoon and the loss is likely to be around 100 billion rupees ($1.2 billion), officials estimated.
Climate Change Fueled Canadian Wildfires
Hot, dry, gusty conditions fed this year’s wildfires in eastern Canada, and those conditions are now twice as likely to occur because of climate change, according to a scientific assessment of the fires released yesterday.
The wildfires burned more than 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of land in May and June 2023, and at least 17 people were directly killed as a result of the fires. More than 150,000 people were evacuated and at least 200 structures were damaged.
The researchers estimated that eastern Canada now has 4 to 5 percent change of experiencing high-fire-risk conditions as severe or worse than 2023’s in any given year—and that probability will increase as more heat-trapping gases are released into the atmosphere, the New York Times summarized.
Canary Islands Wildfire Started Deliberately
Police confirmed on 20 August that the wildfire that ravaged the Spanish tourist island of Tenerife was started deliberately and that they were pursuing multiple lines of investigation.
The blaze raged out of control for five days, AP reported, until improved weather conditions enabled firefighters to make some progress. Drought conditions in the Canary Islands during the past few years exacerbated the fire risk. Approximately 11,600 hectares (29,000 acres) of pine forest and scrubland had been burned as of 20 August.