EXTREME SUMMER HEAT CONTINUES TO IMPACT THE US FUELING DROUGHT CONDITIONS
THURSDAY, JULY 14, 2022 AS OF 4:00 PM EST
The summer season traditionally means the return of heat, drought, and wildfires across the Northern Hemisphere. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) reports that the United States (US) is experiencing flash drought conditions. Flash droughts are characterized by the “rapid onset or intensification of drought conditions.” The US Drought Monitor, which captures current conditions across the US States and Territories, utilizes a color-coded system to relay Moderate (light orange), Severe (orange), Extreme (red) ,and Exceptional (dark red) drought conditions.
Drought Monitor’s Map Showing Current Conditions July 12: US Drought Monitor
NIDIS estimates that across the US, 118.4 million people are currently being impacted by drought conditions this week, and 39 states are experiencing at least Moderate Drought levels. Droughts are categorized by the National Weather Service (NWS) as “periods of abnormally dry weather,” and can cause implications in both the short and long term, and damages can be costly to manage over time. The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) reports that state immediate impacts can include dry vegetation and lower water levels; long-term and more extreme drought can damage biosystems, lead to ecological decline, and create conditions for poor air quality and increase occurrence of wildfires. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that drought can cause long-term public health problems, including shortages of potable water, air quality degradation, and impacts to food and hygiene.
Droughts, which are exacerbated by extreme heat and lack of precipitation over long periods of time, have been becoming more frequent, severe, and pervasive. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) details that the past 20 years have been some of the driest, hottest conditions on record in the US, notably in the Western US. California recently signed new drought rules into law. These rules put restrictions on urban water consumption to combat water use for maintaining “decorative or non-functional grass at commercial, industrial, and institutional properties” and have implemented an all-demand reduction of use. This emergency regulation, issued following prolonged drought conditions in the state, will remain in effect for a year until it is modified, ended, or readopted by the State Water Board (SWB).
HEATWAVES AND WILDFIRES IN THE US
In addition to droughts affecting large portions of the US, a series of dangerous heatwaves are affecting swaths of the US, Europe and China. About 41.7 million people in the US are projected to be affected by potentially dangerous temperatures this week. Temperatures, mainly in the South and Southwest US, may reach into the ‘danger’ level of the heat index which is a temperature between 103 and 124 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the NWS , the heat index measures what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. The heat index goes from ‘Caution’ to ‘Extreme Danger’.
NWS Heat Index Chart : NWS
Multi-day heatwaves with a high heat index can be hazardous, especially for those without access to air conditioning or other ways of cooling the body. This is due to the body’s inability to cool down fast enough due to moisture on the skin caused when the humidity is high.
Over the weekend of July 9, more than ten US cities, including cities in Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas, reached record breaking high temperatures. These high temperatures are due in part to a heat dome settled over the area. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center has forecasted above average or likely above average temperatures for the majority of the US for the remainder of the summer. In Texas, the record-high temperatures are straining the power grid, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has warned of potential rolling blackouts. ERCOT has also asked residents to conserve electricity, particularly between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. to hopefully avoid a total grid failure, as happened in February of 2021. This is the third time this year that Texans have been asked to cut power usage.
Washburn Fire: InciWeb
Additionally, the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) reports that 84 large fires are burning across 10 states. Collectively, these fires account for over 2.9 million acres of land burned. More broadly, 2022 has seen a total of 36,401 wildfires across the country, with almost 5.2 million acres burned. Currently, the NIFC’s National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group (NMAC), the agency responsible for assessing fire risk across the United States (US), has put the country at National Preparedness Level 3.
HEATWAVES AND WILDFIRES CREATE CRITICAL CONDITIONS ACROSS THE WORLD
In China, at least 86 cities in the eastern and southern parts of the country have issued heat alerts, and Shanghai authorities have issued an extreme heat alert for the third time already this summer. This ‘red alert’ is the highest tier of Shanghai’s warning system and has only been issued 17 times since 1873. In Europe, a second heat wave is exacerbating fires and setting high temperature records. Spain, Portugal, and France are all dealing with extreme heat while also battling numerous wildfires. Fireworks for Bastille Day, the National Day of France, have been canceled or postponed in certain areas of the country. The United Kingdom (UK) is also facing extreme heat as the UK Met Office predicts the potential for temperatures upwards of 104 degrees Fahrenheit for this upcoming weekend prompting them to issue a ‘rare’ Amber Extreme Heat Warning for the majority of the country.
Across Western Europe, wildfires are also increasing due to extreme heat and warm African winds, with temperatures expected to reach up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit in some regions of Portugal. Portugal, Spain, and France are all battling multiple wildfires, forcing the evacuation of people from several villages in Spain, Portugal, and France, including over 6,000 people from campgrounds in the southwest of the country.
Map of Current Wildfires: Copernicus
Over the last several weeks, France was hit by a series of wildfires and is still struggling to bring two large blazes under control. Over 4,200 acres have already burned in total between the two fires. The country has deployed approximately 800 firefighters and six water-bomber aircraft in an attempt to extinguish the fires. As Europe continues to face unrelenting heat waves and wildfires, the European Union (EU) declared that climate change is making this year one of the hardest for natural disasters, such as drought and wildfires.
Practice Heat Safety Wherever You Are: NWS
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) urges individuals living in areas impacted by extreme heat to take necessary safety measures in preparation for and during heat waves. FEMA recommends equipping your residence or business with proper insulation, air conditioners, and coverings and reflectors on windows to keep cool. Additional precautions like staying hydrated, avoiding time outside as much as possible, and wearing lightweight clothing can offer protection during periods of extreme heat. Many communities stand up free, public cooling centers, the locations of which are shared via local news outlets or can be accessed by contacting your local health department or 2-1-1 resource. Furthermore, knowing the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness and what actions to take if you suspect heat stroke or exhaustion are critically important. Taking the time to understand the indicators of heat-related illness, measures you can take to cool down, and when to seek immediate medical help can potentially avoid a severe medical emergency for you and your loved ones.
The Hagerty Blog Team will continue providing information and updates on current events and disasters impacting the nation. Visit Disaster Discourse for the latest information.