Record-Melting Fall Heat Wave Bakes Southern California
By Bob Henson
It's not every Oct. 23 or 24 that millions of Americans are swathed in temperatures above 100°F. This week has done just that, bringing some of the toastiest weather ever observed in the U.S. during late October, and more pre-Halloween heat is on the way.
By far the most scorching weather has been in Southern California, although it's also been exceptionally mild this month in settings as far-flung as Michigan, Florida and New England.
A multi-day summer-like heat wave kicked into high gear on Monday and continued Tuesday along and well inland from the California coast, from Santa Barbara through Los Angeles to San Diego. Dozens of locations recorded highs for the date and all-time highs for this late in the year, and Santa Ana winds kept the temperatures amazingly warm throughout Monday night. In Orange County, the city of Fullerton soared to 107°F on Monday. According to WU weather historian Christopher Burt, this is likely the hottest single temperature recorded anywhere in the U.S. so late in the year. Even Death Valley has never recorded a temperature this high after Oct. 16 in any year! For comparison, the national U.S. record high for November is 105°F, most recently at Tustin Irvine Ranch, California, in 1997.
Another impressive mark: downtown Los Angeles (the University of Southern California campus) hit 102°F. Prior to Monday, the downtown station had never topped 100°F after Oct. 17, in records going all the way back to 1877. Incredibly, the USC downtown station got even hotter on Tuesday, reaching 103°F at 1 pm.
Here are some of the many records set on Monday, with the old daily record and year and the year that observations began. Asterisks denote that the high was an all-time record for so late in the year.
The heat wave and Santa Ana winds are being caused by a large, near-record-strength dome of high pressure that's settled in over the Great Basin, a few hundred miles northeast of Los Angeles. The difference in pressure between this high-pressure system and lower pressure over Southern California has driven gusty northeast winds over Southern California. Since these originated over desert areas, they are hot and dry. As the air descends from the mountains to the coast, the air gets even hotter and drier due to adiabatic compression—the process whereby the pressure on a parcel of air increases as it descends, decreasing its volume, and thus increasing its temperature as work is done on it. These downslope winds are why the most impressive records on Monday occurred along and just inland from the coastline.
In locations where the winds kept up on Monday night, there was little relief from the heat. Overnight lows were as high as 90°F (Fillmore, in Ventura County) and 86°F (Van Nuys). Some locations stayed near 90°F all night except for just an hour or two when the winds slackened and the temperatures dropped to around 80°F. Even a weather station at 5655 feet, near the summit of Mt. Wilson, failed to dip below 65°F.
A helicopter drops water on a wildfire in California near the Mexico border.Andrea Booher / FEMA
Fire weather remains critical through Wednesday
The heat and wind will continue through Wednesday across the coastal ranges of Southern California, keeping fire danger at critical levels on both Tuesday and Wednesday as designated by the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center. The very warm night Monday night gave temperatures a running start toward highs on Tuesday that could match or even exceed Monday's at some locations (as was the case in Los Angeles, as noted above). Adding to the fire risk, winds were already gusting above 60 mph at some locations by midday Tuesday, and relative humidity on Tuesday night may remain as low as 10 to 15 percent, dropping below 10 percent as the air heats up by day. Winds should begin to relax across the area by Wednesday afternoon.
Hot temperatures pushed further up the California coast on Tuesday. Big Sur topped 100°F before noon, as did several other coastal locations. In San Diego, public schools closed early on both Monday and Tuesday because of the heat; by 2019, all of the district's school buildings are slated to have air conditioning.
Hottest World Series game on record
The temperature at first pitch for the 2017 World Series Tuesday at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles was 103°F, the hottest beginning to any game in the century-plus history of the World Series, beating out the first-pitch reading of 94°F on Oct. 27, 2001 in Phoenix. In a weather.com overview last week, Jon Erdman noted, "While the Arizona Diamondbacks hosted the 2001 World Series in a retractable-roof stadium (then called Bank One Ballpark, now Chase Field), and would normally have closed the roof to shield fans from the desert heat, Major League Baseball wanted the roof open."
Apart from the long-term warming of U.S. climate that's resulting from human-produced greenhouse gases, there's at least one other reason why we might expect World Series games to be warmer now than decades ago. Until the 1950s, all Major League Baseball teams were located in the Northeast, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic, prior to the major U.S. population shift toward the warmer Sunbelt. On the other hand, World Series games are being played later in October than they were during most of the 20th century, and all World Series games were played during the daytime until the 1970s. Both of these latter factors would tend to yield cooler rather than warmer first-pitch temperatures today as opposed to decades ago.
Departures from average temperature (in degrees F) for the period Oct. 1-22, 2017.NOAA/NWS Climate Prediction Center
Parts of the Northeast are on track for warmest October on record
The first three weeks of October were remarkably mild for most of the U.S. east of the Rockies. Overnight lows across most of the Northeast on Monday night were in the 50-70°F range—warmer than the average highs for this time of year! Albany, NY, "dipped" to 68°F early Tuesday, compared to its average high and low for the date of 57°F and 37°F. If the temperature stays above 64°F through midnight, it'll be Albany's highest daily minimum ever recorded this late in the year, in data going back to 1874.
The Northeast's unusually dry and unseasonably warm weather in both September and October has played havoc with the region's world-famous fall foliage. In some areas, still-green leaves are sharing the same landscape with brilliant colors and leafless twigs. "This foliage season is very odd, to say the least," reported the Foliage Network on Oct. 16. "For most locations, there won't be a true peak in the color ... there is great color to be seen, but complete landscapes of fall color will not be found this season."
A mishmash of color greeted leaf-peepers at Guilford, VT (near the VT/MA border) on Oct. 18. In this area, foliage is typically peaking by mid-October.Bob Henson
These gulls appear to be enjoying the fall sunshine and warmer runway next to @NWSCaribou #mewx https://t.co/bygNPItyaH— NWS Caribou (@NWS Caribou)1508615961.0
A cool front pushing across the Northeast on Tuesday, followed by a stronger front early next week, should bring the region closer to seasonal norms, but the cooldowns may not be enough to avoid some all-time monthly warmth. Below are several locations that could end up notching their warmest October on record, based on observations through Monday, Oct. 23, combined with WU forecasts through Oct. 31.
Keeping an eye on 93L
A disturbance dubbed Invest 93L continues to spawn widespread but disorganized showers and thunderstorms across the Western Caribbean, a notorious breeding ground for late-season hurricanes. In its tropical weather outlook issued at 8 pm EDT Tuesday, the NOAA/NWS National Hurricane Center gave 92L a 10 percent chance of developing into at least a tropical depression by Thursday and a 50 percent chance by Sunday. See our Tuesday morning post for more details on 93L.
Dr. Jeff Masters contributed to this post.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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