Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles could be the hottest ever played, as an extended stretch of abnormally warm weather moves over Southern California.
For the first time in California’s history, the National Weather Service has issued heat advisories in February, affecting more than 16 million people. Until this point, such advisories had occurred only between April and October.
“Visitors from cold weather states not acclimated to the heat may be at a higher risk for heat related illnesses,” warned the Weather Service in Los Angeles. “Avoid strenuous outdoor activities [and] drink plenty of water.”
The warnings, coming as tens of thousands of spectators flock to California, highlight the extent to which rising temperatures are transforming the way Americans live and their iconic pastimes.
High temperatures will begin to ramp up Wednesday as high pressure to the north and a zone of low pressure to the southeast funnel air westward down the Sierra Nevada. That allows for a process called “adiabatic compression” — as air descends in the atmosphere, it’s compressed by increasing air pressure and, subsequently, warms up and dries out.
Wednesday’s temperature is predicted to peak near 87 degrees in downtown Los Angeles. The forecast high is 89 degrees on Thursday, dipping to 87 on Friday. The high on Saturday and Sunday will hover around 88 degrees, with the heat advisory remaining in effect.
Thursday’s forecast high in Los Angeles would break the Feb. 10 record of 88, set in 2016. Friday, Saturday and Sunday could come close to calendar-day records, in the upper 80s and low 90s.
Dating to 1877, only six February days in Los Angeles have achieved highs of 90. The upcoming temperatures will probably remain just below that threshold, and they’re unlikely to rise as high as in 1995, when they reached 94 degrees on Feb. 2 and 3.
Relief will come in the form of overnight low temperatures, which will fall into the 50s. That will offer a period of cooling and a respite from the taxing conditions.
Potentially the hottest Super Bowl on record
Super Bowl LVI will take place at 3:30 p.m. Pacific time on Sunday in Inglewood, Calif., as the Los Angeles Rams square off against the Cincinnati Bengals. According to data compiled by SportingNews.com, it will be the hottest Super Bowl on record if temperatures reach predicted highs.
There have been 55 previous Super Bowls, with the first being played at the L.A. Coliseum in 1967. Twenty of the games have been played in domes, with the remainder outdoors.
Super Bowl VII, which also took place in Los Angeles, now ranks as the hottest Super Bowl recorded. On that day, Jan. 14, 1973, temperatures soared to 84 degrees by kickoff.
Sunday’s Super Bowl has a chance to eclipse that. While it may be a few degrees cooler in Inglewood compared to downtown Los Angeles, a kickoff temperature around 85 degrees seems plausible.
SoFi Stadium does have a roof and technically is domed, but there is no large-scale air conditioning. Instead, panels can reportedly be opened to cool the interior of the stadium by about four degrees. Needless to say, Sunday’s Super Bowl is likely to be pretty toasty.
Humidity levels, however, will be very low, taking an edge off the heat, particularly in the shade. By the second half, temperatures will drop into the more comfortable 70s.
How rare is a February heat advisory?
The heat advisory in effect in Southern California is the first such alert to be issued in the Golden State during the winter. But what exactly warrants a heat advisory?
In much of the country, an advisory requires the heat index to surpass a certain threshold. The heat index is a measure of how it feels and the amount of stress placed on the human body, taking into account both temperature and humidity.
The criteria for a heat advisory varies regionally, because an individual’s tolerance to heat depends on what they are used to; Florida issues a heat advisory for a heat index of 108 degrees or higher, while above 95 degrees triggers one in Maine and Vermont.
In parts of the western United States, however, weather forecast offices use modified criteria. They rely on a quantity the Weather Service calls “HeatRisk.” It’s a “fractional number that represents the risk of impacts to human health” and takes into consideration “how significantly above normal the temperatures are” for the time of year as well as the warmth’s duration.
That’s why temperatures in the upper 80s to lower 90s trigger heat alerts now but wouldn’t during the summer.
Hot weather comes amid drought, long-term warming
The heat comes on the heels of California’s second-driest January on record. Dry conditions tend to intensify hot weather, since soil stripped of its moisture heats up more readily. Three of California’s five driest Januarys on record have occurred in the past eight years.
Drought now affects 99 percent of California, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Los Angeles International Airport received just 0.09 inches of rain last month, tied for its sixth-driest January on record.
The hot weather also occurs amid Los Angeles’s long-term warming trend. Average winter temperatures there have increased 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1948 — a trend replicated across all seasons in Southern California as well as across much of the United States and the planet.
Of Los Angeles’s 10 hottest days during the first half of February, all have occurred since 1970 and 7 of 10 since 1995 (in records dating to 1877).
Jason Samenow contributed to this report.