The West is suffering its third heat wave in just three weeks, causing record high temperatures throughout the region and potentially tying one of the highest temperatures ever recorded on earth. The heat wave is almost certainly caused by the worsening and largely unmitigated climate crisis.
Death Valley hit 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Friday, potentially matching one of the highest temperatures ever reliably recorded on Earth, set less than a year ago. Both temperature readings have yet to be confirmed by the World Meteorological Organization.
Several other regions around the West also had record highs over the weekend. Las Vegas and St. George, Utah both hit 117 degrees, which could tie with Utah’s all-time high temperature on record. As of Saturday, according to the National Weather Service, over 30 million people were under excessive heat warnings or heat advisories.
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The heat wave comes on the heels of a heat dome that encompassed the Pacific Northwest in late June, where numerous all-time temperature records were broken.
Nearly 200 people died in Oregon and Washington as the region, where many don’t have air conditioning, struggled to manage the unusually scorching heat. In British Columbia, officials announced that 719 people died over the course of the heat dome and in the days following, three times more deaths than usual were recorded.
The heat wave in the Pacific Northwest was also extremely deadly for wildlife. One researcher in British Columbia said that he conservatively estimates 1 billion sea creatures off the coast of Vancouver have died due to the heat wave — the real number is likely higher.
Though the heat in the Pacific Northwest and record temperatures spanning the rest of the Western U.S. are typically extremely rare, researchers estimate that they will become much more common as the climate crisis intensifies.
A group of climate scientists recently said that the heat dome in the Pacific Northwest was made 150 times more likely by the climate crisis and estimated that by 2040 such heat waves could come once every five to 10 years. The heat waves today are viewed as 1-in-1000-year events.
As the West scorched, the East coast was being battered by Hurricane Elsa, which caused power outages and flooding despite being downgraded from tropical storm status. Elsa came just as New York City was recovering from very heavy rains, which overwhelmed the drainage systems and flooded the subways and roads.
The overlapping climate emergencies come as lawmakers in Washington are delaying action on the climate crisis. Recent negotiations with Republicans and conservative Democrats over President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package excluded many of the climate provisions that advocates said were absolutely essential if the U.S. is to do its fair share in reducing emissions and transitioning in a just way to a greener economy.
Meanwhile, progressive lawmakers are raising alarm about the emergency and urging leaders in Washington to take action on the climate crisis. Last week, progressive House members sent a letter to House leadership demanding a Green New Deal. “We need a jobs and infrastructure plan that meets demands laid out in the Green New Deal,” the lawmakers wrote.