Record heat and floods are the latest extreme weather events in the US this summer.
Four people have died after flooding in Kentucky and St. Louis.
Temperatures in the Pacific Northwest topped 100 degrees in places, and more than 85 million people were under heat advisories.
Extreme weather events have dominated this summer in the United States, with some regions seeing record heat, while others experienced deadly flooding. Both events are becoming more common and more severe due to the climate crisis.
After torrential rainfall in St. Louis earlier in the week, eastern Kentucky saw storms that brought devastating flooding to parts of the state. On Thursday afternoon, three people were confirmed dead from the flood.
“I expect double-digit deaths in this flood,” Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said.
Less than 48 hours earlier, a St. Louis man died after flash floods submerged his car in more than 8 feet of water, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. More than 9 inches of rain fell in just 24 hours, the highest rate in St. Louis history, and delivered more than 25% of the city’s average annual rainfall in just 12 hours, according to National Weather Service.
Area firefighters rescued more than 400 people during the flooding, while 10 puppies drowned at a dog rescue center in a St. Louis suburb, the paper reported.
Parts of the city’s light rail system were damaged in the flood when water covered the tracks. Residents using the damaged areas of the public transit system were asked to seek alternative transportation “until further notice,” likely for two weeks, according to the Post-Dispatch.
The impact of Tuesday’s rainfall and flooding is expected to be felt by St. Louis residents for several weeks, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Meanwhile, residents of the Pacific Northwest are dealing with a grueling heat. Oregon’s governor declared a state of emergency in 25 of the state’s counties on Tuesday, with temperatures expected to top 100 degrees for most of the week, KGW8 reported. In western Washington, temperatures on Tuesday broke records.
More than 85 million Americans were under heat warnings Sunday, NPR reported.
“I encourage everyone to take proactive steps to keep themselves and their families safe, including drinking plenty of fluids, taking advantage of cooling centers and checking in on neighbors, friends and loved ones,” Oregon Governor Kate Brown said in a statement.
The heat in the region is not expected to let up for the rest of the week, ABC News reported. Parts of California, Nevada and Idaho are under a heat alert until Saturday.
Temperatures rise and precipitation changes
Climate change, driven by all the greenhouse gases that humans have released into the atmosphere, is altering the planet’s water cycle. Rising temperatures increase water evaporation and change the atmospheric and ocean currents that distribute moisture across the globe. In some places, droughts are becoming more common, extreme or prolonged. In others, such as the US Midwest, heavy rainfall and flooding are increasing.
Because it increases temperatures across the globe, climate change is also making heat waves more common, severe and long-lasting, spreading them over a larger geographical area. Scientists have already observed these changes in heat waves in recent decades, and they expect extreme heat to continue to become more dangerous and widespread in the future.
This year perfectly shows the trend. The US has been bombarded with record heat waves, some lasting two weeks or longer, since the spring. Europe, China, the Middle East, North Africa and large parts of South and Central Asia have also been exposed to repeated events of extreme heat this year.
Across the Mediterranean region, other parts of Europe and the United States, the heat dried out the landscape and led to large forest fires – another type of extreme weather that is becoming more common and severe in many parts of the world as the planet’s temperatures rise.
“We’re in a climate that’s constantly shifting toward more extremes. From that perspective, that’s exactly what we expect and what scientists have predicted will happen over the last decade,” Kai Kornhuber, a climate physicist at Columbia University, told Insider in mid- July.
Seattle’s previous record temperature for July 26 was 92 degrees, but this year it reached 94 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The city of Bellingham saw a 4-degree increase, from the 1988 record of 86 degrees, to this year’s 90 degrees.
“Extreme heat is a deadly hazard we will see more of in Seattle as a result of climate change,” Curry Mayer, Seattle’s director of emergency management, said in a statement. “We ask residents to take extreme heat seriously by understanding the danger and learning to protect yourself, your family and your neighbors.”
Meteorologists do not expect temperatures to climb as high as they did during the devastating heat event that caused more than 1,400 deaths in the Pacific Northwest last year. The 2021 event would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change, according to a historical data analysis by the World Weather Attribution.
“We don’t need to go down this road,” Kornhuber said, calling for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. “But if things continue to develop as they are, it’s pretty clear that we’re going to see more record-breaking extremes, and more simultaneous extremes just like this year, and even more extremes.”
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