Summer, 2010: The New Normal?

By Bruce E. Johansen

Earth by mid-2010 was experiencing its warmest decade, the warmest year, and the warmest April, May and June on the instrumental record. In 2010, Russia (at 111 degrees F.), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (both 126), Niger (118), Sudan (121), and Pakistan (at 129) set all-time temperature records.

We always have had summer heat waves somewhere in the world. But 2010 was notable for their frequency, coverage, and endurance—a window, perhaps, on a new climatic world in which severe summer heat, drought and deluge will be “the new normal.”

July 2010 was close to the warmest month on the instrumental record in the United States; only a cool summer in the Pacific Northwest prevented it becoming the warmest, according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  During all of this, the U.S. government decided to put global warming on the back burner, even as evidence of warming was not in short supply. July 6, 2010, Baltimore hit 104 F., Philadelphia 104, and New York City 103. By 7 a.m. the next morning, the temperature in New York City was 86. In Philadelphia it was 87 at 4 a.m. The same week, on the other side of the world, Beijing reached 109 F.

The 105 degrees F. reading in Norfolk, Virginia July 24, 2010, tied the all-time high temperature there, set August 7, 1918, with a heat index of 116. The next day, Norfolk broke the record, at 106. Washington, D.C., during June 2010, had the highest average temperature for that month on record (begun in 1871), with 18 days at 90 F. or higher. In Kansas City, police tucked cold packs into bulletproof vests. In Washington D.C., several dozen Boy Scouts collapsed from heat illness during a parade to celebrate the centennial of scouting, shortly before the temperature dropped 30 degrees F. from 100 F. in an hour during one of the area’s worst thunderstorms on record, which extinguished power to more than half-a-million homes and businesses.

Russia: Scenes from an Apocalypse

The scenes from Moscow were apocalyptic—weeks on end of sizzling heat, the air rancid from peat and forest fires. In midsummer, Moscow temperatures hit an all-time record high of 101 degrees F. July 29, a reading matched August 2 (the average high is 75). St. Petersburg hit 96 July 29, and Helsinki, Finland rose to 93. Moscow’s health minister urged residents to stay indoors or leave the city, even if they missed work. By August 9, the damage of the smoky shroud to people’s lungs was being measured in packs of cigarettes per day. Estimates ranged from three to eight. The death rate in Moscow rose by 50 to 100 percent from early July to early August 28.

In the United States, many areas seared at 100-plus. The Tucson, Arizona city morgue had to bring in refrigerator trucks when it ran out of space following the deaths of 150 undocumented workers crossing the border in the heat, many more than in previous years.

In Omaha, a seasonal high of 97 F. may not have seemed like much. After all, we have failed to reach three digits only 10 times in 120 years of recordkeeping. However, the same time it was 97, the humidity was 62 per cent, the heat index 118, and the dew point 80 degrees, giving us weather that would have been insufferable even in the Amazon Valley.  And it did this with nauseating regularity.

Just another 100-year storm

Along with the heat came extremes of drought and deluge. Beside its searing temperatures, Russia suffered severe drought even as northern Pakistan mourned the deaths of more than 1,500 people in its worst monsoon deluge in 80 years. At the same time, the largest hailstone on record (eight inches in diameter) fell near Vivian, South Dakota July 23, easily out-sizing a seven-incher that fell near Aurora, Neb. June 22, 2003. Floods also inundated parts of China and Eastern Europe.

In the United States, on June 11, 2010, swollen rivers fed by a sudden deluge of six to eight inches of rain swamped a campground in southwestern Arkansas’ Ouachita National Forest within an hour or two, killing 19 people. “This was such a huge, fast-moving event. I talked to somebody who [had] lived here all their [sic] life. They [had] never heard of anything like this,” said U.S. Forest Service geologist John Nichols.

The force of the flood ripped apart foundations and splintered large trees into kindling. Raymond Slade, a retired hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey said that the intensity of the rain was unusual even for an area called “flash flood alley,”  “much greater than a 100-year rainfall” (an event expected every 100 years). Three days after the deadly flash floods in Arkansas, 1 to 3 inches of rain an hour fell in the Oklahoma City area June 14, as the National Weather Service said a few areas measured almost 10 inches in one day, driving many residents to trees and rooftops.

“Clean Air-Cool Planet” surveyed 60 years of National Weather Service rainfall reports and found that “extreme precipitation events” (more than an inch of rain or equivalent in one day) have become more common in nine Northeast states as temperatures have warmed. Record rains (11 inches in 36 hours) killed more than 200 people in Rio de Janeiro.

On May 1-2, 2010, Nashville, Tennessee had 14 inches of rain in two days, equal to twice the former daily record, or like having two record daily deluges back to back. Milwaukee, Wisconsin received eight inches of rain in two hours July 22, 2010, provoking widespread flash flooding, including the runways of the airport, which canceled all flights for several hours and stranded many travelers overnight.

The global warming skeptics probably will find exceptions: Seattle and San Francisco, for instance, had cool summers. So did Dublin, Ireland. For most of us, however, the drumbeat of daily weather reports forms trends, and the message is hot and violent.    

REFERENCES

Copeland, Larry and William M. Welch. “”Walls of Water’ Hit With Little Warning.” USA Today, June 14, 2010, 1-A, 5-A, 6-A.

Dorell, Oren. “Scouts Ambushed by Heat, Storm.” USA Today, July 26, 2010, A-1. Kramer, Andrew E, “Russians and Their Crops Wilt Under Heat Wave.” New York Times, July 19, 2010. 

McKibben, Bill. “We’re Hot as Hell and We’re Not Going to Take It Any More: Three Steps to Establish a Politics of Global Warming.” TomDispatch.com. August 4, 2010. reprinted from www.CommonDreams.org

“Northeast Storms Growing More Fierce.” USA Today, April 6, 2010, 3-A.

Bruce E. Johansen is Jacob J. Isaacson Professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and author of The Encyclopedia of Global Warming Science and Technology (2009).

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August 30th 2010

Matthew - Thank you for the compilation. Living here in southeast Nebraska, I can attest to the humidity this summer. Day after day of 95+ degrees, with 80 degree dew points made for miserable conditions. There was not even any respite at night. The Missouri River was above flood stage for most of the summer, too, with folks in NW Missouri taking the brunt of damage. I can't even begin to imagine the scope of disaster in Pakistan, or the devastation in Russia. Politicians talk about the national debt and deficit. They say we can't pass it on to future generations - even when they have no plan or intention for actually eliminating or reducing said debt. But, I'm beginning to wonder more and more whether future generations will ever be able to repay the ecological debt we're leaving to them.