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Heat Wave Bakes West

Climate
Heat Wave Bakes West

Climate Central

By Andrew Freedman

While the East has been dealing with a powerful Nor’easter that dumped several inches of windswept rain along the coast, and up to 2 feet of snow in the interior, the West has been baking in record heat. The heat is spreading eastward into the Plains states, but it will be short-lived there, eventually settling in the southern tier of the U.S. later this week.

West Texas, which was ground zero for scorching weather last summer, is likely to see temperatures approach or eclipse the century mark this week.

During the past seven days, 746 daily record-high temperatures were set or tied, along with 400 daily record-high minimum temperatures, according to the National Climatic Data Center. According to Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, the 113°F measured at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, Calif., on April 22 was tied for the hottest April temperature ever recorded in the U.S.

View of the records set on April 22, using Climate Central's Record Temperature Tracker. The red dots indicate warm temperature records, while the blue dots show cold temperature records.

Masters wrote: "Nearly every weather station in the Inter-mountain West has broken, tied, or come within 1- 2°F of their all-time record April heat record since Sunday. Most notably, the 113°F measured at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, Calif., on April 22 was tied for the hottest April temperature ever recorded in the U.S. According to wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt, the hottest reliable April temperature ever measured in the U.S. was 113°F in Parker, Ariz., in 1898. A 113°F reading was also taken at Catarina, Texas in April 1984."

Also impressive is the fact that 99 monthly record-high temperatures were set or tied during the past week, along with 22 monthly record-high minimum temperatures. (These records and more can be looked up using Climate Central's Record Temperature Tracker.)

This warm wave follows the warmest March on record in the Lower 48 states—when more than 15,000 warm-temperature records were broken during a lengthy heat wave that affected nearly every state east of the Rockies.

The heat has been especially noteworthy in two places known for their sizzling weather during the summer months: Phoenix and Las Vegas. On April 22, Phoenix tied its all-time record-high temperature for the month when the temperature reached 105°F. Yuma, Ariz., hit 106°F on the same day, a record daily high for that location. Phoenix also set warm minimum temperature records. The low temperature at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport only fell to 74 degrees on April 23, beating the old record for the date of 71, set in 1997.

As for Las Vegas, the high temperature of 99°F on April 22 tied that city's all-time high-temperature record for April. This was also the earliest 99 degree reading on record, occurring two days earlier than the previous record of April 24, 1946.

March was the warmest such month on record in the Lower 48 states. 

More record warmth was expected Tuesday from northeast Montana southward to the Plains states, with conditions heating up in Texas during the next few days. A storm system is expected to move into the West during the next few days, bringing cooler temperatures, along with rain and mountain snows.

So far this year, there have been more than 26,000 warm-temperature records set or tied in the U.S., compared to about 2,600 cold-temperature records set or tied. In recent years, record daily highs have been outpacing record daily lows in a pattern that has been shown to be inconsistent with natural climate variability alone.

So far, this year is consistent with that trend, since daily record highs have been far outpacing daily record lows, with an even more lopsided picture for monthly record highs compared to monthly record lows. If the climate were not warming, one would expect the longer-term ratios to be, on average, closer to 1-to-1.

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Colette Pichon Battle, attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy. Colette Pichon Battle

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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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