Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather
By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 9:08 AM GMT on July 07, 2010
Hi, Dr. Rob Carver, filling in for Jeff while he's on vacation.
The most significant weather event in the US on July 6, 2010 didn't show up on any radar. The geostationary satellites didn't see it in their constant watch over the Earth's atmosphere. Instead, the tale of this event was told by the thermometers, because the heatwave in the Northeast was the most significant event for July 6, and it will likely be the most important weather story for July 7.
The heat wave covers Pennsylvania to Maine, but Tuesday's worst was centered over New York City. All six of the stations used by the New York NWS office for climate reports (Central Park, La Guardia, JFK, Islip, Bridgeport, and Newark) set or tied the daily high temperature record. Newark and Central Park both reached 103 degrees F.
How unusual is this heat wave?
Figures 1 and 2 show how warm the highs and lows are compared to 30 year averages. Unless you were at the Great Lakes, the Midwest and Northeast have highs well above normal, with 10-15+ degree F differences over the coastal cities of the Northeast. Using my gridded temperature data, the low for New York City was 6 degrees F above normal, which should happen 30% of the time (1.1 standard deviations away from normal). The high was roughly 20 degrees above normal, which should happen only 0.29% of the time (3.04 standard deviations away from normal). This is an unusually strong heat wave.
Why it's hot
Basically, it's because there is "the Bull of a high pressure ridge [over the NE US]" to quote the Mount Holly NWS office forecast discussion. The large ridge of high pressure is forcing air to slowly descend across the Northeast, preventing clouds from forming. Without no clouds and plenty of daylight, the Sun heats the ground which then heats the air.
When will it cool down?
That's an excellent question. A trough of low pressure off the coast will bring onshore winds to the Tri-State area and MA by Thursday, so they should cool down a bit. The southern part of the heat wave, DC and Philadelphia, will have to wait for a cold front to arrive from the Great Lakes sometime Saturday to get relief.
As Figure 3 shows, heat advisories covered most of the urban areas of the northeastern US. By my calculations, over 32 million people were under a heat advisory. Different offices have different guidelines for heat advisories. The NWS office responsible for New York issues a heat advisory if the heat index will be above 95 deg. F for two or more days or if the index will be above 100 deg. F for any length of time.
Fig.1 Plot of the difference between maximum temperature (the high for the day) and average maximum temperature in degrees F for July 6.
Fig.2 Plot of the difference between minimum temperature (the low for the day) and average minimum temperature in degrees F for July 6.
Fig.3 Plot of the active heat advisories across the northeastern US for July 6.
The predominant impact from heat waves is increased mortality. CDC estimates that over 8,000 people died during heat waves from 1979 to 2003. That's more than all of the deaths due to lightning, flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The elderly, sick, poor, and very young face the worst of the effects of the heat. Wikipedia has an interesting article describing the Chicago Heat Wave of 1995, a modern heat wave with a large number of fatalities due to the heat.
Heatwave coping strategies
The Centers for Disease Control have some tips for dealing with the heat. In summary, drink plenty of water, spend time in air-conditioned buildings, and wear light-colored clothing.
Is this heat wave due to global warming?
Ah, the $64,000 question. In the absence of detailed analysis, it's hard to specify the exact cause for this heat wave, from a meteorological or climatological view point. However, events like this are consistent with research showing that heat waves are more likely with
global warming. I like the metaphor of loaded dice, global warming is not specifically responsible for any heat wave, but it will make them happen more often.
My thinking on Invest 96L is unchanged from this blog entry. In summary, I believe that 96L has a <50 % chance becoming a tropical cyclone before it makes landfall. If it does so, it will likely be near the coast when that happens. In any event though, the winds and waves it generates will likely disrupt oil spill recovery efforts. Also, I would expect a broad area of showers and 20+ mph winds will affect the Gulf coast somewhere from south Texas to Louisiana.
I'll have an update this afternoon to talk about the tropics.
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