Extreme temperatures haunted two continents on Wednesday, with more than 100 million people in the United States facing excessive heat conditions and a heat wave that had scorched Western Europe taking aim at Central Europe.
“Let me be clear: Climate change is an emergency,” Biden said in a visit to Somerset, Mass. “In the coming weeks I’m going to use my power to turn these words into formal, official government actions. When it comes to fighting climate change, I will not take no for an answer.”
Yet the weather made clear that it would wait for no policy. In the United States, temperature records were obliterated in the Great Plains, where thermometers recorded 115 degrees in Texas and Oklahoma. More than 60 million Americans will probably experience triple-digit heat over the next week.
Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings were issued affecting more than 105 million people in 28 states across the central United States and the Northeast, where the combination of hot weather and high humidity will lead to conditions ripe for heat-related illness or heatstroke.
Excessive Heat Warnings and Heat Advisories are in effect this morning throughout 28 states, stretching from California to New Hampshire. High temperatures into the 90s and 100s will increase the risk of heat related illnesses. For heat safety tips, visit: https://t.co/L4FyvSS6lj pic.twitter.com/rFmVCKxDSV— NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) July 20, 2022
Oklahoma City’s fire department has responded to approximately 300 calls related to grass fires in July amid the scorching, dry conditions, Capt. Scott Douglas said in an interview. Firefighters answered more than 100 medical calls — mostly dehydration — related to the heat in the first half of the month.
The heat has intensified to the point that the department has asked dispatchers to send more units to fire scenes to reduce the time first responders must spend outdoors, Douglas said. Firefighters are following the same guidance they’re giving — to wear lighter clothing and stay inside — and churches and others are aiding those who tend to the overheated, dropping off water and sports drinks at fire stations.
Dallas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa could all approach 110 degrees in the days ahead, and some locations have blown past that.
The top reading came from Mangum in southwest Oklahoma, which hit 115 degrees at 5:55 p.m.
It was comparably hot in north Texas, where Fort Worth’s Meacham International Airport climbed to 110 degrees and Dallas got to 109. Wichita Falls hit 115, a July record.
Dallas is predicted to peak around 107 degrees Wednesday, and high temperatures will probably remain near that for an extended period. Austin and San Antonio are expecting similar numbers.
“We’re sort of in our third wave of well-above-average temperatures this summer for south-central Texas,” Keith White, a meteorologist at the Weather Service in Austin, said in an interview Wednesday.
Several fires cropped up across north-central Texas on Monday, including in Somervell County, southwest of Dallas.
Drought and fires have been issues across much of Texas and Oklahoma. Along and especially west of Interstate 35, humidity levels below 25 percent, coupled with winds gusting up to 30 mph, are creating conditions ripe for swift fire spread.
“We’ve had a large number of fires across our region, and even more and larger ones in other areas of Texas,” White said. He blamed both the recent spate of dry weather and a particularly wet spring in 2021. That drove plant growth and provided additional fuel for fires once the vegetation dried up.
“[The wet spring of 2021] allowed a lot of vegetation to grow more than normal, then we had a drier winter, spring and summer, making things susceptible to burning,” White said.
Closer to the Gulf Coast, a touch more humidity is present. While that will cap temperatures slightly lower — between 98 and 102 degrees — the moisture-filled air mass will help heat indexes top 105 degrees.
That humidity is wafting north toward the Ozarks and up the Mississippi Valley as well. In Little Rock, Wednesday’s high temperature was predicted to peak just a hair over 100 degrees, but heat indexes could flirt with 115 degrees.
The local Weather Service office described the setup as “hot, muggy and basically ‘swimming in the air’ conditions.”
John Sappington, one of Missouri’s longtime fishing guides, has had to turn away customers this month because extreme heat has limited when he can take people on the water to early morning or night.
“It’s just uncomfortable to be out there,” said Sappington, who is based in Branson, where temperatures reached 105 on Wednesday.
But it could get worse if the rains don’t return and water levels recede to the point that boat ramps must close; while the area had a wet spring, there has only been one small storm in a month.
“If it keeps going this way, it would be pretty tough,” he said.
Behind the heat is a stagnant ridge of high pressure colloquially known as a “heat dome.” High pressure results in sinking air, which clears skies and fosters copious sunshine. The high acts as a force field of sorts, diverting the jet stream northward and deflecting any inclement weather into Canada.
While the heat dome looks to shift east a touch in the coming days, it doesn’t look to break down anytime soon, meaning there’s no immediate end in sight to the heat. In Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Dallas, Wichita Falls, Houston, Austin and Little Rock, highs should remain around or above 100 degrees for at least the next week.
The heat will also bleed toward the East Coast. Heat advisories span from Delaware through parts of interior New York into southern New Hampshire on Wednesday, where the combination of heat and humidity will make it feel like 95 to 100 degrees in the north and 100 to 105 degrees in the south.
Some of the hottest weather along the East Coast is forecast this weekend. On Sunday, highs could touch the century mark from Washington to New York for the first time in at least several years.
“We need to act — just take a look around,” Biden said in his remarks on Wednesday. “Right now, 100 million Americans are under a heat alert. ”
Biden was at a shuttered power plant site converted into a factory making wind-farm parts. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) dashed hopes of an imminent climate deal last week, which followed the Supreme Court rejecting several weeks ago a proposal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Biden has faced intense pressure to boost fossil fuel development because of high gas prices.
Biden is navigating complex terrain, trying to show that he is committed to energy abundance while also finding ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The U.S. heat coincided with a historically extreme European weather event, which so far has killed more than 1,000 people and fueled wildfires that have prompted 40,000 to evacuate. A staggering 34 weather stations broke the 101.7 degrees threshold in Britain, logging temperatures higher than anything Britain has ever observed.
The impact of that weather event has been becoming more clear, with Portugal alone reporting more than 1,000 deaths linked to extreme heat.
Pearl Jam canceled its show Wednesday night in Vienna citing heat, dust and smoke from the outdoor show in Paris that affected frontman Eddie Vedder’s throat. Tuesday marked the first time in 75 years that temperatures in the French capital exceeded 104 degrees.
The singer has seen doctors and tried to treat his vocal cords to no avail, the band announced.
“To all those who were anticipating a great Pearl Jam show tonight in Vienna, we were too,” the band said in a statement. “This is brutal news and horrible timing … for everyone involved.”