The summer in the Northern Hemisphere has seen record-breaking heat waves. The stifling heat has served as a reminder of the harsh realities of the effects of climate change. The first week of July was the hottest ever recorded, with temperatures surpassing 110°F in Europe, while Phoenix, Arizona experienced its twentieth day of temperatures above 110°F. As the heat wave persists, concerns about health impacts and strains on the power grid continue to grow, exemplified by a recent study that examines the potential effects of a power outage during a five-day heat wave in Phoenix.
The mechanisms behind heat waves start with a high-pressure system that forces air to sink and heat up, which then gets trapped. Climate change enhances this effect by increasing overall heat in the atmosphere and reducing moisture on the ground that would typically absorb some of the heat. The current El Niño cycle’s impact—warmer Pacific Ocean surface water—has also contributed to the ongoing heatwave as the warmer ocean decreases heat absorption.
The worrying forecasts so far in 2023 show that we’re poised to break the heat records of 2016, and there’s a strong possibility of 2024 surpassing this year’s records as the El Niño cycle plays out. However, amidst the dire circumstances, we’re still optimistic about the promising potential that lies in mitigation strategies. For example, we’re bullish on more urban trees and increasing solar energy utilization to help bring down temperatures in the long term—especially in places like Arizona, where there’s massive potential to maximize the use of solar power year-round.
1. The New York Times, “Extreme Heat: Phoenix Breaks Record With 19 Consecutive Days 110 Degrees or Higher,” https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/07/18/world/heat-wave-us-europe-weather Accessed July 20, 2023
2. Science News, “What’s causing this summer’s extreme heat waves?,” https://www.sciencenews.org/article/summer-extreme-heat-waves-jet-stream Accessed July 20, 2023
3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “International report confirms 2016 was warmest year on record for the globe,” https://www.noaa.gov/news/international-report-confirms-2016-was-warmest-year-on-record-for-globe Accessed July 20, 2023