Heat that Kills People, Melts Polar Ice is Not Normal
Killer Heat Wave
We have two seasons in Texas. Hot and Not as Hot. It’s hot now as summer begins in earnest in Texas. That’s normal, we adjust our lifestyles when the spring is over and we move inside, shift to endurance. Here in Austin, we wait for the first Longhorn football game and several weeks later, after we play OU, the first cold front comes around Halloween (but lately that’s not until Thanksgiving) – these are all leading indicators that our long summer is finally coming to a close. It’s a seasonal rhythm that dominates our lives down here.
On the phone with my brother yesterday in Livermore, CA, I learned that the high today is expected to be 108 F – in June. Not normal. He’s staying inside because its not possible to do normal things in that kind of heat. Not safe. These are the signs and limitations we can expect as the climate changes. These are the costs of continuing with the status quo.
The southwestern United States, from California to Arizona, is expected to see prolonged record temperatures this week, with temperatures in some places rising to near 120°F.
The most dangerous temperatures are expected Monday through Wednesday, though extreme heat could linger into Thursday. Temperatures are expected to peak on Tuesday: Death Valley, California, could record temperatures as high as 127°F, and the Colorado River Valley could see temperatures as high as 122°F.
The record-high temperatures are a sign that monsoon season is right around the corner, according to the Washington Post. The southwest often sees the highest temperatures of the year right before the wettest months, as warm temperatures create an area of low pressure that, in turn, draws moisture to the region. The western United States is suffering through a historic heat wave: Extreme heat is one of the clearest and more defining characteristics of global warming.
This kind of heat is not just a periodic or seasonal inconvenience though, this kind of heat disrupts our routines and even kills people.
Across the United States, unusually hot days, along with unusually hot nighttime temperatures, have become increasingly common in recent years. When nighttime temperatures remain high, the body cannot cool off as easily as when nighttime temperatures are low — making heat waves even more dangerous as the human body strains to regulate temperature.
The southwest is already one of the hottest parts of the United States, which means that it regularly sees some of the country’s highest temperatures before monsoon season arrives. But as Arizona-based meteorologist Eric Holthaus noted on Twitter, Arizona has seen a marked jump in the average number of days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in recent years — in Tucson for instance, the number of extremely hot days has increased 55 percent in the last 30 years.
American Airlines has already cancelled flights in Phoenix for today because the anticipated high is 120 F … planes can’t fly when the temperature rises above 118 F. Let that sink in.
Melting Ice: A Texas-Sized Problem
The challenges of a Texas-sized melt in 2016 are described in Climate Change Alert! A Texas-size Chunk Of Antarctica Partially Melted Last Year
El Niño has given us a preview of West Antarctica’s future, and things do not look good. For two weeks in January of 2016, unusually warm weather caused a 300,000 square mile patch of the Ross Ice Shelf to partially melt. The roughly Texas-sized area, blanketed in a slushy mixture of ice and water, represents one of the first times scientists have been able to catch such widespread Antarctic melting in action. The findings were published this week in Nature Communications.
The meltwater caused no sea level rise, because eventually it re-froze. So this event poses no immediate danger to us. But it does give scientists a terrifying glimpse into Antarctica’s future…because ice shelves like Ross help hold Antarctic ice on land, which keeps glaciers out of the water. Once the shelves fracture, that ice can pour into the ocean a lot faster. David Bromwich, a climate researcher at Ohio State University, told Motherboard that if the Ross Ice Shelf collapses, sea levels would rise by 11 feet, which could flood nearly 30,000 square miles in the U.S. alone.
And more recently, a large crack has appeared on Antarctica, threatening to break off a hug chunk of ice into the ocean. There’s a new branch in the huge Antarctic ice crack , which is about 110 miles long (and the chunk of ice is “the size of Delaware”), but that’s not all.
The formation of the new branch once again raises the question of when the iceberg will calve. “It might be very, very quick, or it might still take a few months, we don’t know,” Sevestre said. When the iceberg calves, Larsen C will lose about 10 percent of its area. The massive chunk of ice is already floating on top of the water, so when it breaks off, it won’t cause a rise in sea level. But the break could destabilize the rest of the ice shelf.
“Ice shelves like the ice shelf on the Larsen C hold back the ice in glaciers that are flowing down out of the mountains and across the coast and into the ocean all around Antarctica,” said Mark Fahnestock, a glaciologist at the University of Alaska.
Facts are Helpful, If They Lead to Action
With these climate readings this weekend, I learned more than I wanted to know about the potential for disaster in Houston (see Extreme Storms: Too Close to Home), the depressing news of an extreme heat wave, and the interaction of ice shelves, glaciers and melting. The world is changing right in front of us, and we have a ring-side seat to watch it happen, if we open our eyes and watch. With this knowledge, let us hope that we find the motivation to help us mobilize to take Climate Action and slow these climate processes down before these dire events actually unfold in real time. Each of us can do something too, and that is shift away from fossil fuels and adopt clean electricity alternatives. If you don’t like this turn of events, do something. The time is now, this is really happening.
By John Cooper