Scorching July on pace to be hottest month on record

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Scientists from the United Nations and the European Union announced Thursday that the first three weeks of July were the three hottest weeks on record and that the month was almost certain to be the warmest in recorded history.

“Unless an ice age were to appear all of sudden out of nothing, it is basically virtually certain we will break the record for the warmest July on record and the warmest month on record,” Carlo Buentempo, director of the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which partnered with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told the Associated Press.

“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in a pithy summation of the findings at a press conference.

“Many scientists — including those at Copernicus — say it’s almost certain that these temperatures are the warmest the planet has seen in 120,000 years, given what we know from millennia of climate data,” CNN reported.

Prolonged heat wave

Tom Comitta holds two signs, one saying Happy Death Day, as the thermometer registers 131 degrees Fahrenheit, the equivalent of 55 degrees Celsius..

An activist stages a protest in Death Valley National Park by the thermometer at the Furnace Creek, Calif., Visitor Center on July 16. (David McNew/Getty Images)

This week, roughly 150 million Americans are sweltering under heat alerts as the monthlong heat wave broiling the Southwest and Florida has recently spread to the Midwest and Northeast. In Washington, D.C., the heat index, which combines heat and humidity, is projected to reach 104°F on Thursday and 107°F on Friday.

In El Paso, Texas, temperatures have exceeded 100°F for a record-breaking 41 consecutive days. Phoenix surpassed 110°F for 26 consecutive days, setting a new national record. Pavement temperatures can reach 170°F in those conditions, and burn patients who fell on the sidewalk or touched a doorknob are filling burn units in Las Vegas, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Such extremes have also been seen worldwide for much of the summer. Last month was by far the hottest June globally on record. July 6 set a new record for hottest global average temperature when it surpassed the previous record, from August 2016. Every day since July 3 has been the hottest day on that date.

Dangers abound

Firefighters in nitrile gloves measure the body temperature of a resident in shorts.

Firefighters in Phoenix measure the body temperature of a resident having trouble breathing on July 20. (Caitlin O’Hara/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Emergency room physicians in cities suffering extreme heat waves say they are seeing a sharp increase in patients with heat-related ailments. Extreme heat also increases the risk of potentially deadly cardiovascular problems like heart failure.

“This is the worst summer in recent memory,” Frank LoVecchio, an emergency medicine physician at a hospital in Phoenix, recently told NBC News.

Extreme heat is also a challenge as power grids try to keep pace with increased demand for air conditioning. The 13-state eastern U.S. grid operator PJM Interconnection LLC, covering from Washington, D.C., to Illinois, issued an Energy Emergency Alert Level 1 on Thursday, meaning that “it is concerned about being able to maintain adequate power reserves,” according to Bloomberg News.

Although Thursday’s announcement was focused on air temperature, oceans have also been affected. A buoy in Manatee Bay, Fla., recently registered the hottest water temperature in world history: a Jacuzzi-like 101.1°F.

What’s causing the spike in temperatures

Cris drinks a bottle of water near her campsite, with a wet microfiber cloth draped over her head.

A person drinks water near her campsite during a heat wave in Salem, Ore., on Aug. 12, 2021. (Alisha Jucevic/Reuters)

Scientists say the cause of this extreme heat is climate change caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels.

“The extreme weather which has affected many millions of people in July is unfortunately the harsh reality of climate change and a foretaste of the future,” Petteri Taalas, the secretary general of the WMO, said in a statement. “The need to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions is more urgent than ever before.”

Like 2016, 2023 is a year that features an El Niño weather pattern, a band of warm ocean water that causes temperatures to spike. But scientists note that the reason that recent El Niño years have been the hottest in history is that baseline temperatures are steadily rising, thanks to an increase in emissions.

“Years with El Niño events tend to be warmer than other years, but the inexorable march of temperatures upwards due to climate change is adding a permanent El Niño worth of heat to the Earth’s atmosphere every 5 to 10 years,” Zeke Hausfather, a research scientist at Berkeley Earth, said in a statement.

A separate study released Tuesday by the research organization World Weather Attribution determined that July’s extreme heat waves would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change. The study found global warming made the current heat wave in Southern Europe, which has resulted in raging wildfires, 2.5°C (4.5°F) hotter.

World leaders respond

President Biden, flanked by Deanne Criswell and Rich Spinrad, speaks under a banner saying: Combating the Climate.

President Biden, with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Rick Spinrad, announcing new measures to deal with extreme weather on Thursday. (Evan Vucci/AP Photo)

On Thursday, Guterres called for the leaders of the largest economies to set more ambitious new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a sentiment echoed by climate scientists.

Later in the day, President Biden announced a new set of actions to address extreme heat, including directing the Labor Department to increase inspections of potentially dangerous workplaces and increasing enforcement of heat safety violations.

“I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of climate change anymore,” Biden said.

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