After record temperatures, Washington says goodbye to a very hot summer

September 20, 2011

While kids throughout the country enjoyed their summer break this year, Mother Nature didn’t even take a vacation.

As we get ready for the start of fall on Friday, let’s look at what was a wet, warm and wild weather season.

●Dry weather and drought persisted in the southern United States.

●Rivers flooded in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest.

●Hurricane Irene traveled up the East Coast.

●One of the most intense heat waves in U.S. history covered two-thirds of the country, making this the nation’s second-warmest summer (June, July and August) ever recorded.

The heat wave was caused by a “heat dome,” a large area of high pressure (sinking warm air) that stalls over a region. The sinking air presses down on the air below it, causing temperatures to rise. Sunlight heats up the air even more.

July was Washington’s hottest month ever recorded, with an average high temperature of 84.5 degrees. Dulles International Airport reached a record high of 105 degrees on July 22, and Baltimore reached 106 degrees. The region’s air was so hot that it heated up the Potomac River to a record 96 degrees — almost the same temperature as the human body and definitely too hot to swim in!

Washington wasn’t the only place that broke records. Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana and Texas all experienced their warmest summers. Temperatures in Dallas, Texas, stayed above 100 degrees for an astonishing 30 days in July.

“It’s just draining, physically draining,’’ Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman, said in July.

The heat and lack of rain in Texas caused the state’s worst single-year drought.

Meanwhile, the East and West coasts had more rain than usual. This was the wettest summer ever measured in New Jersey and California. Washington had its wettest August in 44 years: 8.92 inches of rainfall. And Hurricane Irene brought flooding from North Carolina to Vermont.

So are the hot temperatures proof of global warming?

An individual weather event such as a heat wave or hurricane cannot be directly linked to global warming, but rising temperatures are known to make these events stronger. According to meteorologist Jason Samenow of The Post, “Global warming is not causing hot weather but [is] almost certainly intensifying it.” That means future heat waves could be hotter. Pass the ice cream, please.

With a season like this behind us, what weather will Mother Nature bring this fall? Luckily, the “heat dome” is no longer in place: Fall temperatures are expected to be at or only slightly above normal. Meteorologists say the wet weather is likely to continue along the eastern United States because of the active hurricane season.

— Ann Posegate

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