'Staggering': 4,500 Heat Records and Counting

'Staggering': 4,500 Heat Records and Counting

As globe warms, the rate records are being broken can't be explained away by coincidence

A heatwave that began weeks ago in the western Rockies before spreading to the midwest with sweltering temperatures and monstrous thunderstorms, has continued eastward leaving records highs, loss of life, and intense weather events all along the way. Heat records have been smashed in over 4,500 locations, and with Saturday temperatures showing no relief, that number is expected to grow.

Looking at midwestern temperatures across the region, the Weather Underground blog cites records set in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. "On Friday," writes Jeff Masters, "three cities in Michigan [hit] their hottest temperatures ever recorded. Lansing hit 103deg, the hottest day in Michigan's capital city since record keeping began in 1863."

The National Weather Service said the temperature also hit 103deg at O'Hare International Airport on Friday, breaking the record of 99 degrees set in 1988, and making it the third-straight day with a triple-digit reading in Chicago.

Lack of electricity also is compounding the misery for many following storms that knocked out power in Michigan, West Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere.

Jane Lubchenco, head of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on Friday said that the experience of recent extreme weather has convinced many Americans previously unconvinced or unconcerned with the impacts of man-made climate change.

"Many people around the world are beginning to appreciate that climate change is under way, that it's having consequences that are playing out in real time and, in the United States at least, we are seeing more and more examples of extreme weather and extreme climate-related events," Lubchenco told a university forum in the Australian capital of Canberra.

"People's perceptions in the United States at least are in many cases beginning to change as they experience something first-hand that they at least think is directly attributable to climate change," she said.

"It's OK to talk about events when you discuss them in a proper scientific context," says Michael Mann, director of the Earth Science Center at Penn State. "The climate models have predicted what we've now seen, which is a doubling in the rate at which we break all-time warmth records in the U.S. We're breaking those records, over the past decade, at a rate of almost twice what we would expect from chance alone."

In fact, more than 2,000 U.S. heat records were broken just in the past week. Climatologists argue that while there's certainly nothing unexpected in periodic record-breaking temperatures, the rate at which these records are being broken year after year can't be explained away by coincidence.

"There's a randomness to weather, but what we're seeing is loading of the weather dice to the point where sixes are coming up 10 times more often," says Mann. "If you were gambling and you saw sixes coming up 10 times more often you'd start to notice. We are seeing climate change now in the statistical loading of these dice."

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