When trying to come up with ideas to write about, it always seems a good idea to create a series of articles, such as the one I have been working on about severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. For those of you who routinely follow these articles you are expecting an article about how tornadoes are formed. As much as I’d like to share that article with you this issue, sometimes Mother Nature leads with a headline I just can’t refuse. Thunderstorms and tornadoes will have to take a sideline for this issue and instead we’ll take a look at the historic heat wave that has ravaged much of the central and eastern U.S.
So far this summer across the Canadian Prairies has been warm and fairly dry and in some places people have been talking about how warm it has been. Fortunately for us, at least until press time last week, we have missed out on the big heat that has been occurring south of the border. After seeing some of the images and looking at all of the records broken, I am glad we’ve been able to dodge this record-setting heat wave — at least so far.
Over much of the central and eastern U.S., what’s becoming an unprecedented heat wave has been occurring. What makes this heat wave fairly disturbing is the fact that most of it occurred in June. To put things into perspective, the big record-setting heat wave everyone uses for comparisons occurred back in 1936. That heat wave started during June in the U.S., then spread northward during July, setting all-time heat records that until this year have yet to be touched.
But touched they have been! According to the Weather Underground, in June 2012, 11 per cent of the 777 U.S. weather stations with a period of record of a century or more broke or tied their all-time heat records for the month of June. Only 1936 (when 13 per cent of June records were broken or tied) and 1988 (12.5 per cent) had greater numbers of all-time monthly June records broken. So June 1936 had more records broken, but over a much shorter period of time; also, the records being broken this year were the ones set in either 1936 or 1988.
Not only have there been a lot of all-time June heat records set this year, but a number of these records also broke the all-time yearly heat record — again, something almost unheard of during the month of June! Hot days and record-breaking hot days are not unexpected or something to get excited about, since they happen once or twice every year. What has been unusual about this heat wave is the consecutive number of days places are reporting temperatures over 100 F (38 C).
The city of St. Louis hit these triple-digit values for 13 days in a row starting June 27. This streak is now the third longest in their history. Pueblo, Colorado reached 101 F (38.3 C) on July 4, which brought the number of consecutive days with high temperatures of 100 F or higher to a record-high 13 days as well. Finally, Chicago saw three consecutive days with a temperature of 100 F or hotter, which tied the record for most consecutive 100 F days, set back in 1936.
I have included a couple of pictures of from the Colby, Kansas region. If they don’t remind you of the 1930s Dust Bowl, I don’t know what will. I guess the big question on most people’s minds is whether this heat will build northward or not. So far, the weather models show some fairly significant heat building over the Canadian Prairies over the next couple of weeks, but other than a typical summer heat wave, it is not currently looking like we’ll be pushing all-time record highs. Let’s hope this forecast holds true!