A not-so-funny thing happened a couple of weeks ago. Right before the official start of summer.
Mother Nature decided to throw a heat wave at us. Not just one of those short, mild, late-spring warm-ups. This one was serious… one of those, “you could fry an egg on the sidewalk” type of heat waves.
It was as if Mother Nature were saying, “Wanna know what I have in store for you this summer? Here’s a taste of it.
And the taste was not so sweet. The international Reuters News Service used this headline: “Apocalyptic” Heat Wave Scorches U.S. Southwest Again.
And the National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for five states. They were California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and parts of Colorado.
Soaring Temps Break Records
Record-high temperatures were reached from the Great Plains to coastal California. Some of those temps broke century-old records.
In Palm Springs, California, the mercury soared to 123 degrees. It was 118 degrees in Phoenix, Arizona. And 114 in Las Vegas, Nevada. As well as 109 in Sacramento, California.
Denver, Colorado experienced three consecutive days of 100-plus degrees. Omaha, Nebraska set a record at 105 degrees. More than 40 million Americans experienced triple-digit temps. Over 200 million saw temps of 90 or higher.
And, just a reminder. It wasn’t even summer yet when this heat wave hit.
Daniel Swain is a climate scientist at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. He said, “It’s not only unusual for June. But it is pretty extreme even in absolute terms.”
Extreme Heat Wreaks Havoc on Grid
We all know what extreme heat does to our vulnerable power grid. It causes widespread outages. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, there was record demand in the state on June 14.
Just when people need their air conditioners more than ever, they can stop working. And so can other electrical devices in homes. Including refrigerators, freezers and fans.
In this latest heat wave, power systems were again on the brink of failure. In California, grid operators pleaded with people to conserve energy. Especially in the late afternoon and evening when demand surges.
They also warned that if people didn’t heed their advice, rolling blackouts were likely. Sometimes rolling blackouts are the only way to keep a system from crashing altogether.
This was all too familiar for Texans. Many suffered through power outages and rolling blackouts just four months earlier. That’s when Winter Storm Uri brought snow, ice and record-low temperatures.
Heat Wave Stretches to Midwest
The Plains and Southwest were not the only areas of the country that had to deal with this late-spring heat wave.
Weather services issued advisories for Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. Temperatures reached 100 degrees in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Julie McNamara is a senior energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She said heat and subsequent power outages are not just a Southwest problem.
“If we talk about infrastructure without considering how that infrastructure needs to match the climate conditions from today on into the future, then we’re building something that won’t stand a chance,” she said.
“The past will not guide us to be equipped for where we are. And where we are increasingly going.”
Wildfires Starting Early
In addition to causing power disruptions, heat waves provide fuel for the spread of wildfires.
The hotter the air, the dryer the ground. And the dryer the ground, the more easily wildfires start and spread.
Rupa Basu is the chief of air and climate epidemiology for the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. He said the heat wave and drought create a “perfect storm” for fires and poor air quality.
The National Interagency Fire Center says there have already been 33 large fires in 2021. They’ve burned more than 360,000 acres in 10 states.
A Heat Wave by Any Other Name…
Some people call early heat waves a sign of manmade climate change. Others say they are just part of natural weather events that occur over time.
It really doesn’t matter what it’s called. The fact is, each decade over the past 50 years has been hotter than the previous one worldwide.
No one knows how long that will continue. But the hotter it gets, the more demand there will be for electricity. And that means more power outages.
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to protect yourself and your family with a solar-powered generator.
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