From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published July 22, 2011 02:02 PM

Northeast Bakes Under Blistering Heat

The ungodly weather that scorched the Midwest of the USA has travelled east, giving the large population centers along the Atlantic coast a chance to experience the skin-frying joy. Temperatures exceeding 100 degrees F (38 C) have lingered for several days. When factoring in humidity and other conditions, the outdoors can feel like a sultry 115 degrees F (46 C). The inhuman heat wave is expected to break by the end of the weekend, with temperatures dipping to a relatively cool 90 degrees F. The end of July is known to be the hottest time of the year, but today's heat goes far above the average. With current trends in the climate, is it possible that this extreme weather may one day become the norm?



What is occurring now is what meteorologists are calling a heat bubble. Hot, moist air has travelled north from the Gulf of Mexico over the central part of the country. Then high pressure in the upper atmosphere pushes down on the hot air, compressing it, and making it hotter. Meanwhile, more Gulf air comes through in a clockwise pattern, constantly inflating the heat bubble. The bubble travelled into the northern tier of the country as the jet stream shifted north towards Canada.

Now the bubble has travelled east, pushed by the clockwise rotation of the Gulf air. It now rests over a huge area, from Texas up to southern New England and down to the Carolinas. Temperatures are now reminiscent of Death Valley. By next week, the jet stream should shift south from Canada, bringing some relief for the heat weary nation.

To better understand the extreme weather, and its context within larger climate shifts, ENN interviewed renowned environmental expert with the Nature Conservancy, Bill Ulfelder. He has worked all around the world promoting conservation. He is currently with the Nature Conservancy's New York City program, heading a staff of 160 people. Being in the Big Apple, he has first-hand experience with our current heat wave and has shared his insight.

According to Mr. Ulfelder, the higher temperatures the northeast is experiencing is indicative of a changing climate. One only has to look at the trends to see the direction it is going. The previous decade (2000-2010) had the hottest average temperatures on record, and 2010 was the hottest year on record. But climate change is not just warmer temperatures, it is more extreme and intense weather such as bigger hurricanes, flooding, drought, and heat waves.

In particular, the Northeastern United States will see its climate become more like climates of the Carolinas and the southeast. It will become hotter, wetter, and even buggier. The northward migration of climate zones on the east coast will affect all ecosystems from Florida to Canada. The effects will significantly impact agriculture, forests, and may bring about more invasive species. Plants and animals that are not able to migrate north with the changing climate, or to higher elevations, may find themselves out of luck. Particularly, species which inhabit wetlands and mountaintops will be in trouble.

Adapting to higher temperatures is important. For example, on days like today, it is important not to be out for too long during the hottest times or exerting oneself. Also, outdoor air quality is an issue on hotter days, so those with asthma, children, and the elderly should avoid going outdoors.

But Mr. Ulfelder stated the greater importance is minimizing climate change. Methods to do so are in our reach: renewable energy, conservation, public transit, tree planting. Tree planting in particular can have a dramatic effect on urban temperatures. All the hot pavement in the cities add to the heat island effect. Also, roofs can be painted white or be covered by plants (i.e. green roofs).

Heat waves like the one we are experiencing may become more common, and people will have to adapt. However, humans have the ability to do something about it. "The scientific evidence is irrefutable," stated Mr. Ulfelder. "Even if you don't believe it's caused by man, this is happening. What we have to do is address the long-term challenge. We can be climate-smart while also having a stronger economy and a more habitable environment."

For more information on the Nature Conservancy in New York City:

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