It was a good week to be a Wyomingite. As of Thursday, the 98,000-square-mile rectangle was the only state in the contiguous U.S. to have somehow avoided both heat index warnings and air quality alerts.
If you live anywhere other than Wyoming, well, I sympathize. Summer has only just begun, but America’s topsy-turvy climate season has most definitely arrived.
Plenty of places around the country experienced relatively “normal” conditions this week: Most of Maine and Vermont dodged the heat and smoke, as did large swaths of Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Washington State. But you were more likely to have experienced extreme weather than not. Roughly 54% of Americans — about 180 million, by Axios’ estimate — were under alerts for either the smoke or extreme heat during the final week of June.
Let’s start with the heat dome, which human-caused climate change made “at least five times more likely,” according to researchers at Climate Central. Some 91 major cities had “dangerous levels of heat” in their forecast as of Thursday, with nearly a third of the U.S. population under alerts that stretched from northern Florida to New Mexico. Dallas, New Orleans, Nashville, and parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama could still see heat index readings potentially as high as 120 — when anything over 103 is considered dangerous.
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Although Californians are used to being on the frontlines of climate change, their relatively quiet spring led to some bristling when New Yorkers, being New Yorkers, made the recent wildfire smoke event all about them. But summer is kicking off in the Golden State with a vengeance: Much of the coast is now staring down a heat wave that could push “readings toward record territory,” The Washington Post reports. A separate event from the Southern heat dome, the triple-digit weekend weather in California looks like it will stretch from Los Angeles up through the Central Valley, but at least it won’t come with the humidity that is often the culprit behind heat-related deaths.
Then there is the Canadian wildfire smoke, which continues to drop by unannounced like an overly exuberant neighbor. Though there isn’t likely to be a repeat of the “perfect storm” that ushered in the worst smoke pollution in recorded American history, we are experiencing a “stuck weather pattern” in which air quality relief only comes with “sweltering air from the south,” The Washington Post reports. While it can be tricky to tie wildfires directly to greenhouse gas emissions, we do know that “human-caused climate change causes more situations where weather patterns” such as these “stall.”
More importantly, nowhere is seemingly safe from the smoke. Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee had the worst air quality in the world earlier this week. On Thursday, Washington, D.C., replaced them in the top spot. And while the West Coast has enjoyed relatively clean air this spring, its wildfire season doesn’t typically begin until the late summer and early fall. If the Canadian wildfires are finally brought to heel, it might only be in time for the West Coast fires — and smoke events — to begin.
If there is slim good news, it is that El Niños, like the one we’re in now, typically suppress Atlantic hurricane activity. But even that wisdom might be in flux: Warm water, like that in the Atlantic, usually helps storms to intensify. This year has already seen the formation of Tropical Storm Bret, one of the earliest named storms on record, which at one point looked like it might turn into a fully fledged hurricane — even though on average, hurricanes aren’t expected to form in the Atlantic until mid-August. Ultimately, there is too much uncertainty to say whether or not this will be a bad hurricane year, but the worst-case scenarios are frightening.
Even Wyoming might not be able to sit out the excitement for much longer. Climate change is forecasted to bring to the state “harsher summer droughts, longer wildfire seasons, and a whole host of new threats to the Wyoming way of life,” the Casper Star-Tribune warns.
We’re only eight days into summer. What will happen next?
Read more about the wildfire smoke: