Real-Time U.S. heat wave: Website lets you Watch

Summers are so brutally sizzling that the U.S. government created a new website, heat.gov, to allow Americans to stay safe during dangerous heat waves.

It features maps showing current weather conditions across the country and provides other tools and resources to help people beat the heat.

The website’s primary goal is to prevent heat-related illness and death by sharing up-to-date information on extreme heat. Heat destroys more people in the U.S. than any other weather cataclysm. Often, it disproportionately damages vulnerable pockets of people, including kids, older people, and neighborhoods of color who live in urban and previously redlined areas designed in a way that traps heat.

Secretary Commerce Gina Raimondo said during a press briefing on the latest website. “You could be a mom trying to determine this summer, ‘is it safe for your kids to play outside? To go camping?’… The data on heat.gov is designed to help you with solid, actionable information to assist you in navigating the hazards.”

Heat-related deaths are mainly avoidable if people can take precautions, like bypassing physical activity outside and discovering a safe place where they can stay cool. That’s why administrators ask the public to prepare for extreme heat the way they would for any other impending calamity, like a significant storm.

One of the foremost things you’ll catch on the homepage is a big, interactive map indicating which regions in the U.S. are currently under heat alerts. For instance, you’ll notice that Tulsa, Oklahoma, is accentuated pink to show that it’s presently under an “excessive heat warning.” Clicking on the highlighted regions draws up a box with more details on the alert from the National Weather Service, which indicates “dangerously hot conditions” today and tomorrow as the heat index goes upto a scorching 112 degrees Fahrenheit.

You can also employ the website to pull predictions for detailed regions into the future. For example, click on the tab farthest to the right, labeled “Days Above 90 deg F in 2050.” If climate change persists unchecked, Tulsa is expected to experience 107 days a year with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s compared to an average of 66 days yearly, with temperatures high between 1976 and 2005.

More links and data visualizations throughout the website break down tons of information, like which parts of a city are hottest during different times of the day and how many heat-related emergency department visits. One of my favorite features is a little button you can click on the left-hand side of the website (above the share icon) that will translate the page into dozens of different languages.

More than 39,000,000 people in the U.S., more than one in 10 people, are under extreme heat alerts today, it says on the new website’s homepage. As worrying as that is, it already pales compared to July 20th — when nearly half the U.S. population was under a heat advisory. And while summers have grown hotter as climate change pushes global average temperatures higher, extreme weather is on the way even more. The average annual temperature of the continental U.S. is projected to climb by up to 8.7 degrees Fahrenheit higher by the end of the century.

What’s causing U.S. Heatwaves?

Much of the United States will encounter another heat wave this week, with above-normal temperatures predicted for the Southern Plains, Pacific Northwest, and the Lower Mississippi Valley. The extreme heat fuels a fast-moving California wildfire just into Yosemite National Park. The Oak Fire has destroyed ten structures and is 10% contained. The U.S. heat wave tracked record heat that killed hundreds if not thousands of people and flared European wildfires. read more

WHAT IS A HEAT WAVE?

A heat wave has no one optimum scientific definition. However, it can be determined by a certain number of days above a specific temperature or percentile of the norm, depending on the climate of a region.

JET STREAM MIGRATION and ARCTIC WARMING

The Arctic is heating three to four times faster than the globe, meaning there is less temperature difference between northern and those closer to the equator. Results in swings in the North Atlantic jet stream lead to extreme weather events like heat waves and floods, according to Jennifer Francis, the senior scientist at the Woodwell Climate Research Center.

HEAT DOMES

Warmer oceans provide heat domes, which entrap heat over extensive geographical areas. Scientists have found that the foremost cause of heat domes is a substantial change in ocean hotness from west to east in the tropical Pacific Ocean last winter. “As prevailing winds push the hot air east, the northern transitions of the jet stream entrap the air and push it toward land, where it drops, resulting in heat waves,” the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration state on its official site.

EL NINO AND LA NINA

Every few years, the climate conventions are known as El Nino, and, less often, La Nina occurs. El Nino fetches warm water from the equatorial Pacific Ocean up to the western shore of North America, and La Nina conveys colder water. At present, La Nina is in effect. Because summer temperatures trend downward during La Nina, climate scientists are concerned about what a severe heat wave would look like during the subsequent El Nino, when even hotter summer weather could be predicted.

HUMAN-INFLUENCED CLIMATE CHANGE

Scientists state that climate change caused by burning fossil fuels is a transnational phenomenon that is undoubtedly recreating a role in what the United States is experiencing. “Climate change is causing extreme and unprecedented heat events both more extreme and more common, rather much universally throughout the world,” expressed Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA.

Heat waves are likely the most underestimated type of possible disaster because they routinely destroy many people. And we don’t hear about it because it doesn’t kill them in, to put it bluntly, sufficiently dramatic ways. There aren’t bodies on the street. With climate change, the world is witnessing changing wind patterns and weather systems in ways that create these heat waves, like we’re seeing right now, more passionate, more persistent, and cover areas that just aren’t used to maintaining heat waves.