Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Heat Wave Sizzles On, Toppling More Than 2,000 Records

Climate
Heat Wave Sizzles On, Toppling More Than 2,000 Records

Climate Central

By Andrew Freedman

Records continue to fall across much of the U.S., as the extraordinary March heat wave rolls onward. The warm weather, with daytime high temperatures close to 40°F above average in some places, set the stage for severe thunderstorms that spawned rare, damaging March tornadoes near Detroit.

The warm weather is the result of a weather pattern that has become stuck in place, known as a “blocking pattern,” with a stubborn, sprawling area of high pressure in the eastern U.S. that is pumping warm air northward into the Great Plaines, Midwest, Ohio Valley and Northeast. The West, on the other hand, is cool and stormy, with mountain snows and valley rains associated with a big dip or “trough” in the jet stream. As this trough slides slowly east, it may set the stage for an outbreak of tornadoes in the Plains late this weekend, as the cool air collides with the warm and more humid air that lies to the east.

 

During the past week, more than 1,200 temperature records were set. During March so far, more than 2,000 daily record-high temperatures have been set in the U.S., and warm temperature records outpaced cold records by a ratio of about 9-to-1.

On March 15 alone, 593 record daily high temperatures were set or tied, along with 445 record warm low temperatures. This compares to just 10 record cold high temperatures, and only 2 record cold overnight lows. In Chicago, temperatures have soared past 80°F four days in a row—the earliest that has ever occurred, breaking a record set in mid-April, 1896.

The National Weather Service issued a statement saying: "It is extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day... though it is very difficult to precisely quantify just how rare it is because as the period of record grows the likelihood of seeing so many consecutive record-breaking days decreases."

In a long-term trend that has been found to be inconsistent with natural variability alone, daily record-high temperatures have recently been outpacing daily record-lows by an average of 2-to-1, and this imbalance is expected to grow as the climate continues to warm. According to a 2009 study, if the climate were not warming, this ratio would be expected to be even. Other studies have shown that climate change increases the odds of extreme heat events.

Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., said the heat wave is comparable to severe summer heat events in terms of the number of records that have been broken, even though temperatures aren’t as hot as they would get during a summer heat event.

“The number of warm maximum temperature records rival the heat waves that have affected the U.S. in the past,” Crouch said, noting that Nevada is the only state in the lower 48 that has not set a daily high temperature record this month.

The warm weather provided the fuel for severe thunderstorms in Michigan, with multiple tornado touchdowns reported near Detroit. One tornado that touched down in Dexter, Michigan was rated an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. It demolished homes, but fortunately did not result in any fatalities. 

As noted by WeatherUnderground’s Jeff Masters, this was the earliest that such a powerful tornado had occurred in the state since reliable records began in 1950.

The National Weather Service released a statement saying that Chicago and Rockford are on pace to "not only break... but shatter" their records for the warmest March.

Here are some of the noteworthy records set on March 15-17. 

  • Minneapolis: 79°F on March 16, the warmest it's ever been s early in the year, and 39°F above average.
  • Rockford, Ill.: 82°F on March 15, breaking the old record of 73°F set in 1995. This was the earliest 80-degree reading on record for this location. Rockford set another daily record on the 16th with a high of 80°F, and on the 17th, with a high temperature of 82°F.
  • Chicago: 81°F on March 15, breaking the old record of 74°F set in 1995. Chicago has been running nearly 12 degrees above average for the first half of March. On March 16 and 17, Chicago hit 82°F, which was the earliest it had ever been that warm. The previous record was set on March 27, 1945, and 82°F is the typical record high for June 24, the National Weather Service reported.
  • Bismarck, N.D.: 81°F on March 16, the warmest all-time March temperature on record. (H/T Jeff Masters.)
  • Madison, Wisc.: 82°F on March 15, breaking the old record by 13 degrees, tying the record for the warmest temperature on record during the month of March, and setting the record for the earliest 80-degree day, beating the old date by nearly two weeks.
  • Williston, N.D.: 68°F on March 15, beating the old record of 67°F set in 1996.
  • Minot, N.D.: 64°F on March 15, exceeding the old record of 62°F set in 1938.
  • International Falls, Minn.: 71°F on March 16, which was their earliest 70°F reading. The temperature reached 77°F on March 17, which set an all-time monthly record, beating the old monthly record by 4°F.
  • Moline, Ill.: 81°F on March 15, the warmest it's ever been there so early in the year. This broke the previous record of 80°F on March 12, 1990.
  • Dubuque, Iowa: 78°F on March 15 and 16, the warmest it's ever been there so early in the year, going back to 1874. This record was short-lived, however, since it was toppled on March 17, when the temperature reached 81°F
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa: 75°F on March 15, 79°F on March 16, and 82°F on March 17, which was the earliest 80-degree reading on record.
With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less