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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 07/06/2010

Thinking cool thoughts during the heat wave

* Heat advisory, near 100 today & tomorrow: Full Forecast | NatCast *
* Talk with CWG about the heat & forecast ahead: Live chat at 2 p.m. *

I am acutely aware that it's hot outside, since the idea of writing a blog post on the ongoing heat wave, and the heat that preceded it in June, has caused me to start sweating. Well, that and the fact that it is ridiculously hot outside. Did I mention that it's hot out? I'm not sure if I did, since the heat is making me a bit woozy.

Even if I did make note of the heat, I probably should mention it again anyway, because man, it sure is hot out.

As in, hot enough that even urban hipsters are wearing shorts instead of slim-cut jeans. Hot enough that dogs on the street are kicking up their paws every few seconds because the pavement is scalding them. Hot enough that every conversation I've had today has begun with, "Hot enough for ya?"

Frequent readers of my posts probably expect me to get all animated about how this heat wave is yet another indication of climate change's effects on our lives in the 21st century, and how this sort of thing will become more frequent and severe in coming years. There is, after all, plenty of scientific evidence pointing to increasing heat wave impacts due to climate change. I wrote about this last year, when a study by one of my colleagues at Climate Central was published, showing that warm-weather records have outpaced cool-weather records nationwide by a ratio of about 2 to 1 in the past decade. That study also projected an increase in the number of very warm days in D.C. during the month of August by the middle of this century.

Frequent readers of mine also probably know that no single heat wave can be attributed to global climate change.

Being the climate science writer for CWG, it would be rather odd if I were to ignore what may turn out to be one of the most intense early-season heat waves in recent decades. Where I am writing from today, in Brooklyn Heights, New York, it is currently close to 100 degrees outside. An in-depth discussion of global warming and heat waves would just make me hotter, and might do the same to you, dear readers. I don't want anyone passing out from reading this.

How about I hit you with some rapid-fire statistics to put this heat into some perspective, and then encourage the thinking of cooler thoughts?

First, even before this heat wave began, temperatures had already been running above normal lately. May and June were exceptionally warm across the eastern U.S., especially the mid-Atlantic. As we noted last week, Washington recorded its warmest June on record, along with numerous other cities, mainly along the eastern seaboard.

According to Guy Walton of The Weather Channel, many more warm-temperature records were set during May and June than cold-temperature records. In an email exchange, Walton told me there were 3,234 daily record highs (including ties) set nationwide during May and June, compared to 1,493 daily record lows (including ties). There were only five "all time" record highs set or tied during May/June 2010 and no "all time" record lows, but there were 102 monthly highs set (or tied) vs. 52 monthly lows set (or tied) during the period.

Walton also noted that there were 6,870 daily record high minimums (including ties) vs 2,570 daily record low maximums (including ties) in May/June 2010. This is noteworthy since daily minimum temperatures have been increasing faster than daily maximum temperatures, which is consistent with what scientists expect to happen as greenhouse gas concentrations increase, since such gases inhibit heat from escaping into the atmosphere, especially during the night as radiational cooling sets in.

The globe as a whole is on track to have its warmest year on record, or close to it, depending in part on how the cessation of an El Nino event in the Pacific affects global temperatures. El Nino events are known to warm the planet, providing an extra boost to already warming temperatures, whereas La Nina conditions, which may be developing now, do the opposite.

The heat wave that we are now in the grips of may topple some records, but as CWG's Kevin Ambrose wrote last week, it is not likely to go down in history as the worst heat wave on record, which occurred in the Dust Bowl era during the 1930s. However, it is interesting that it is occurring early in the summer, compared to late July or August, when most of our intense heat waves tend to occur.

Ok, now I am sweating again. I need to think about cool things. Like a (rapidly melting) glacier in the Andes. Or a torrent of frigid, turquoise water pouring into a Moulin on the Greeland ice cap.

Wait a sec, those images were both climate change-related. Sorry about that.

Perhaps it would be best if we all just pictured what streets looked like during "Snowmageddon." If only that resilient pile of snow near the BWI Airport parking garage had hung in there a bit longer. Surely it would be a tourist destination right about now.

"Come sink your feet into the miracle snow! Cool off with a natural slushy! Take a scoop home for the kids! Come get it while it's still cold!"

Stay cool out there everyone.

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.

By  |  10:45 AM ET, 07/06/2010

Categories:  Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change, Climate Change

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