June 26, 2018

The June 2018 Heat Wave: Frequently Asked Questions, Answered

Q: Oh, great, another one of these. What's going on?
A: A formidable heat wave building across the Plains this week will spread through the southeast and the rest of the eastern United States through early next week. The map shows forecast high temperatures from the NWS between Wednesday, June 27, and Monday, July 2.

Q: Where do I live on that map?
A: You know what? If Rachel Maddow can find the point after a 20-minute monologue that begins in Victorian England and ends by name-dropping a senator who's been dead for 80 years, I believe in your ability to find your house on a map.

Q: How hot will it get?
A: High temperatures will climb into the 100s across a good portion of the Plains starting around the middle of this week and last until a brief reprieve this weekend. Parts of the southeast will see the mid- to upper-90s through the middle of next week. Highs climbing well into the 90s will be common as far north as New England and the Great Lakes as the ridge moves east through the weekend.

Q: Holy moly! Has it ever gotten this hot?
A: The internet is fun because it seems to erase our memory of past weather. Yes, it gets this hot, and no, it's not totally unprecedented. It's unusual to see such intense heat so far north and a little more unusual to see it this early in the season. But when it comes to raw temperatures, even the forecast high of 98°F in that famous tropical resort town of Burlington, Vermont, would be the 16th time they've seen a reading that hot since records began in 1940. Uncommon, yes, but not unprecedented.

Q: Why such a hullabaloo over heat?
A: Heat kills more people every year in the United States than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. We issue warnings and go on red alert television coverage for those hazards, but heat gets brushed off until it's too late for some. It's not a photogenic hazard. The most appealing heat-related images you'll get on the news are shirtless joggers in the park. The lack of frenetic coverage instills a sense of complacency in people. Hype is a double-edged sword.

Q: Will it be humid?
A: It will be humid and it will be miserable. Dew points will easily climb into the 70s from the eastern Plains all the way to the Atlantic coast. Dew points could push the upper 70s or even reach 80°F in spots, especially in the Midwest or Ohio Valley where crop sweat—no, really!—will add to the humidity to make it almost unbearable outside. The humidity will push the heat index over 100°F for several days in many spots.

 Q: Is the heat index fake? I heard it was fake.
A: No. If the heat index was a conspiracy theory it would be a heck of a lot more exciting. There would be chemtrails and aliens and stuff. The heat index comes from scientific studies that looked at how a wet heat affects your body and found that the combination of heat and humidity has the same effect on your body as a much hotter temperature. You can suffer heat-related illnesses a lot faster when it's humid.

Q: Why does humidity make the heat feel so much worse?
A: Humidity keeps you from cooling off effectively because the moisture in the air slows down the evaporation rate of sweat from your skin.

Q: Why is it getting hot?
A: It's June.

Q: Why is it hotter now than normal?
A: A big ridge of high pressure will park itself over the U.S. and Canada east of the Rockies. Air generally sinks under a ridge. Sinking air results in calm(ish) and warm weather. Ridges also allow gross tropical air to flow north from the Gulf and Caribbean and suffocate us. The term "heat dome" is annoying but I like it because it just feels...right.

Q: Will the heat break?
A: The heat in the Plains should break in about three months, but for everyone else, we'll go from "straight-up miserable" back to "deeply uncomfortable" around July 4th. The last day of the ample heat will be closer to the weekend farther west and after July 4th in the southeast.

Q: When will it get cool again?
A: I would say "Christmas" but even that's not a sure thing these days.

Q: Will it cool off at night?
A: Lows will stay in the mid- to upper-70s for the duration of the heat wave. That's not as bad as it could be, but it won't make for much relief when combined with the humidity. That could be dangerous for susceptible folks who don't have access to fans or air conditioning.

Q: What are some heat safety tips?
A: The NWS has a whole bunch of heat safety tips on their site. Let's be honest, though. If someone's gonna jog five miles or go 8 hours without drinking water when it's 98/74 outside, listening to some smart person say "don't!" or "how 'bout a Dasani, buddy?" isn't going to stop them.

Q: How can I protect my children from the heat?
A: Move the television away from the window.

Q: What's the best way to keep my dog safe from the heat?
A: Shorten the duration of their walkies, stick to shade, and keep their toe beans off the hot concrete.

Q: Is exercising outside okay?
A: I'll let you know if I ever try it.

Q: How much water should I drink to stay hydrated?
A: Lots. It's easy to underestimate how much you need to drink when it's hot...so, how 'bout a Dasani, buddy? But, rest assured, no matter how much you drink, you'll have to pee the second you leave the house.

Q: Does the heat make thunderstorms worse?
A: Does Spatini make spaghetti sauce taste better?

Q: What kind of severe weather is favored during heat waves?
A: Mesoscale convective systems are a nasty habit of heat waves, especially along the outer edge of the ridge where the dynamics for such thunderstorm events are best. An MCS is commonly known as a squall line or sometimes even a d******.

Q: What's a d******?
A: I'm sorry. That word is censored on this good, moral blog.

Q: I thought d e r e c h o had a specific definition and you couldn't say it until—
A: Nice work fooling the censor. Yeah, that cat left the bag in 2012. The apocalypse really happened and we're stuck in jargonistic purgatory now where every bad squall line is a...d-word...and nothing matters. A severe squall line is bad whether it lasts for a few miles or a few hundred. The term is just something people latch onto because Facebook is the WebMD of the weather world.

Q: I'm moving to Canada.
A: Enjoy drinking your milk from a bag.

[Temperature Map: Dennis Mersereau (forecast via NWS) | Heat Index Chart: NWS]

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I graduated from the University of South Alabama in 2014 with a degree in political science and a minor in meteorology. I contribute to The Weather Network as a digital writer, and I've written for Forbes, the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang, Popular Science, Mental Floss, and Gawker's The Vane. My latest book, The Skies Above, is now available. My first book, The Extreme Weather Survival Manual, arrived in October 2015.

1 comment:

  1. The rest of you will get what we've been dealing with. You can keep your humidity, however. We don't want it until monsoon season is ready to go.