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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 07/ 6/2010

Thinking cool thoughts during the heat wave

By Andrew Freedman

* Heat advisory, near 100 today & tomorrow: Full Forecast | NatCast *
* Talk with CWG about the heat & forecast ahead: Live chat at 2 p.m. *

I am acutely aware that it's hot outside, since the idea of writing a blog post on the ongoing heat wave, and the heat that preceded it in June, has caused me to start sweating. Well, that and the fact that it is ridiculously hot outside. Did I mention that it's hot out? I'm not sure if I did, since the heat is making me a bit woozy.

Water down the back was one of the few ways to keep younger ones (and older ones) cool Sunday at the National Independence Day Parade in D.C. By CWG photographer Ian Livingston.

Even if I did make note of the heat, I probably should mention it again anyway, because man, it sure is hot out.

As in, hot enough that even urban hipsters are wearing shorts instead of slim-cut jeans. Hot enough that dogs on the street are kicking up their paws every few seconds because the pavement is scalding them. Hot enough that every conversation I've had today has begun with, "Hot enough for ya?"

Frequent readers of my posts probably expect me to get all animated about how this heat wave is yet another indication of climate change's effects on our lives in the 21st century, and how this sort of thing will become more frequent and severe in coming years. There is, after all, plenty of scientific evidence pointing to increasing heat wave impacts due to climate change. I wrote about this last year, when a study by one of my colleagues at Climate Central was published, showing that warm-weather records have outpaced cool-weather records nationwide by a ratio of about 2 to 1 in the past decade. That study also projected an increase in the number of very warm days in D.C. during the month of August by the middle of this century.

Frequent readers of mine also probably know that no single heat wave can be attributed to global climate change.

Being the climate science writer for CWG, it would be rather odd if I were to ignore what may turn out to be one of the most intense early-season heat waves in recent decades. Where I am writing from today, in Brooklyn Heights, New York, it is currently close to 100 degrees outside. An in-depth discussion of global warming and heat waves would just make me hotter, and might do the same to you, dear readers. I don't want anyone passing out from reading this.

How about I hit you with some rapid-fire statistics to put this heat into some perspective, and then encourage the thinking of cooler thoughts?

First, even before this heat wave began, temperatures had already been running above normal lately. May and June were exceptionally warm across the eastern U.S., especially the mid-Atlantic. As we noted last week, Washington recorded its warmest June on record, along with numerous other cities, mainly along the eastern seaboard.

According to Guy Walton of The Weather Channel, many more warm-temperature records were set during May and June than cold-temperature records. In an email exchange, Walton told me there were 3,234 daily record highs (including ties) set nationwide during May and June, compared to 1,493 daily record lows (including ties). There were only five "all time" record highs set or tied during May/June 2010 and no "all time" record lows, but there were 102 monthly highs set (or tied) vs. 52 monthly lows set (or tied) during the period.

Walton also noted that there were 6,870 daily record high minimums (including ties) vs 2,570 daily record low maximums (including ties) in May/June 2010. This is noteworthy since daily minimum temperatures have been increasing faster than daily maximum temperatures, which is consistent with what scientists expect to happen as greenhouse gas concentrations increase, since such gases inhibit heat from escaping into the atmosphere, especially during the night as radiational cooling sets in.

The globe as a whole is on track to have its warmest year on record, or close to it, depending in part on how the cessation of an El Nino event in the Pacific affects global temperatures. El Nino events are known to warm the planet, providing an extra boost to already warming temperatures, whereas La Nina conditions, which may be developing now, do the opposite.

The heat wave that we are now in the grips of may topple some records, but as CWG's Kevin Ambrose wrote last week, it is not likely to go down in history as the worst heat wave on record, which occurred in the Dust Bowl era during the 1930s. However, it is interesting that it is occurring early in the summer, compared to late July or August, when most of our intense heat waves tend to occur.

Scientists observe water pouring into a Moulin on the Greenland Ice Cap. Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Ok, now I am sweating again. I need to think about cool things. Like a (rapidly melting) glacier in the Andes. Or a torrent of frigid, turquoise water pouring into a Moulin on the Greeland ice cap.

Wait a sec, those images were both climate change-related. Sorry about that.

Perhaps it would be best if we all just pictured what streets looked like during "Snowmageddon." If only that resilient pile of snow near the BWI Airport parking garage had hung in there a bit longer. Surely it would be a tourist destination right about now.

"Come sink your feet into the miracle snow! Cool off with a natural slushy! Take a scoop home for the kids! Come get it while it's still cold!"

Stay cool out there everyone.

The views expressed here are the author's alone and do not represent any position of the Washington Post, its news staff or the Capital Weather Gang.

By Andrew Freedman  | July 6, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change, Freedman, News & Notes, Science, Temperature Extremes  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Super scorcher today and tomorrow
Next: Washington D.C. fireworks from the Potomac River


Could someone suggest a way to search a map for destinations within a few hours of DC that have cooler weather? (Or aren't there any?)

Posted by: DCinVA | July 6, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I much prefer the cold -- you can always put on more clothing, but there is only so much you can take off before being fired or getting arrested. . .

Posted by: diana_prince | July 6, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

A good place to go this time of year is Luray Caverns and some of the other cave resorts in the Shenandoah Valley. Its amazing how cool these caves are in the heat of the summer. The drive on Skyline Drive is generally cooler than it is in town.

Posted by: nmaynard22192 | July 6, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

The problem with the record highs is they can't be corrected for UHIE or local siting problems. This was noticeable in Honolulu last year The siting and UHIE applies to record low minimums (per today's LWX discussion). But I'm not sure that record lows and daily low maximums are as susceptible to siting.

Writing about May/June is kind of pointless being the tail end of El Nino and after some records in the other direction last fall and February. We've had a lot of flip flopping from warm to cold months contrary to "what scientists expect as greenhouse gases increase"

Posted by: eric654 | July 6, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Eric - Numerous peer reviewed studies have refuted the urban heat island/temp siting problems.

Globally this has been the warmest 12-month period on record, which is quite noteworthy. See this NASA data: You put El Nino-related warming on top of greenhouse gas-induced warming, and what do you get? A new record...

Stay cool out there, man.

Posted by: afreedma | July 6, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

In your remarks about the warmer than normal May and June, you failed to mention the colder than normal temperatures during the same time period in California and along the west coast. If climate change is global, you should at least look across the continent. Thanks for keeping it interesting.

Posted by: dcm93446 | July 6, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

DCM93446: Good point. It's a question of what perspective to emphasize, without skewing the presentation. I was focusing on DC for May and June, thus the lack of national stats.

If I were to use global stats, though, I would have noted that May and June were the warmest such months on record. In fact, every month this year has set or tied a record for the warmest such month on record, globally.

Posted by: afreedma | July 6, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I would much prefer Snowmageddon. I can only take so many clothes off in this heat, where as bundling up can be fun. Also, the government doesn't shut down when it hits 100 F, but pile on 2 feet + of snow - automatic vacay!

Posted by: mjc11 | July 6, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

snowstorms are so much better than heatwaves! and Mr. Q, please dont comment here, noone cares about your rants

Posted by: samd95 | July 6, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Andrew, the averages such as GISS contain adjustments for UHIE, so it is a real effect and they adjust for it (still a matter of debate how accurate the adjustment is). But there is no way to adjust records for UHIE since it is a raw measured temperature and not an average that is adjustable.

Posted by: eric654 | July 6, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Me, I'll take 90 degrees above zero over 90 degrees below zero any day. Judging by the way population is distributed around the globe, I'd say I'm not alone.

(PS@DCinVA: Three words for you: Deep Creek Lake.)

Posted by: bucinka8 | July 6, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

I will take the heat over the snow any day, times a thousand. At least I can move around outside and get to work. And once the evening comes, the temperature drops, making for a most pleasant setting to grill on the deck, drink a cold beer, and enjoy the longer day. In winter, after work, it's pitch black, so cold it hurts to be outside, and my energy level plummets without the sun. Heat over snow any day!

Posted by: esmerelda123 | July 6, 2010 12:36 PM | Report abuse

@DCinVA: White Oak Canyon, out by Old Rag Mountain and Graves Mountain Lodge.

We broke the century mark at DCA. Now are we on our way to 102?

Posted by: ennepe68 | July 6, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse


While I am onboard with the world heating up, isn't it true that the earth has been significantly hotter in its history before humans? And as such, factors such as the sun's cycles has far greater influence than a trace gas?

My problem with climate science is the same problem I have with a lot of scientific studies and subsequent predictions - they assume constant change which has proven time and again to be incorrect. Dooms day scenarios are drawn from the conclusion that CO2 will increase at an ever increasing rate and that the trend for temperatures can only go up. By their nature, these models cannot forecast the unseen consequences or future events that could throw off estimates. Admittedly, I am no expert but this is a problem that affects all areas where predictions are made. Look at consensus economic predictions to see how well their models work in forecasting perpetual growth.

The world is self correcting with forces that are much bigger than any influence we as humans can have. The world will end some day, but it won't be because of our actions. So let's not lower our standard of living now (taxing carbon)for some uncertain future with a probability of less than 1.

Posted by: beamer0922 | July 6, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

@beamer0922: I don't think carbon dioxide can be considered a "trace" gas. A trace gas, or more broadly, a trace element, is one that is essential for certain processes, but exists in only minute amounts. While CO2 is essential, it is anything but minute.

Your point regarding constant (or linear) change is a good one; based on past observations, it is assumed that future changes will occur at the same rate. It can, in fact, be worse than the current predictions are indicating.

If the world is indeed self-correcting, then a doomsday scenario does indeed await. Your confidence that it won't end due to human effects is laudable, but I fear it is misplaced.

Posted by: ennepe68 | July 6, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

From today's LWX discussion at where they say talk about the heat in 1930 and then say "THE NGT

In other words, they say the build-up of the area makes it more likely to have higher record high minimums.

Posted by: eric654 | July 6, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

anybody have any idea when this page will be updated to include june data?


dcm93446, you said,
"If climate change is global, you should at least look across the continent. Thanks for keeping it interesting."

indeed! and remember how the year started in dc? with all that cold and snow? well...if you "zoom out" you can see that while february was cold (and oh so beautiful) in dc, it was WARM globally.

from this page:

"The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for February 2010 was the sixth warmest February since records began in 1880."


for a great bit of perspective on "it's hot/cold at my house" check out this video. you can watch the whole thing, but the "good part" i'm referencing starts at around 4:40.

Posted by: walter-in-fallschurch | July 6, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Andrew, thanks for the link to the Global temperature report and specifically the Global Land Ocean temperature index chart.
The second thing I noticed was the 40 flat spot in the chart from 1940 to 1980 where the temperatures remained flat. I wonder what the difference was, how it changed in 1980 and what we could possibily do to replicate it. Your thoughts?

Posted by: dcm93446 | July 6, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

dcm93446: Scientists have shown that the slower temp increase between roughly 1940 and 1979 was due largely to the buildup of other pollutants in the atmosphere, such as sulfate particles, which cools the climate and masks warming due to greenhouse gases. As we cleaned up our air of visible pollutants, warming from greenhouse gases resumed in full force. In other words, both the slowdown in temp increase, and the resumption of a steep temp increase thereafter, were partly manmade - but via different mechanisms.

Eric: I never said the urban heat island effect was not real. I said that researchers take it into account when studying temperature trends. Are their corrections perfect? No. But does the heat island invalidate or cancel out the warming observed worldwide, from the top of the world to the Antarctic peninsula? No indeed.

Posted by: afreedma | July 6, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Still a rain threat on four days out of six--hardly a real drought though some of these rain threats run around the 20% to 30% category...and "much-needed-rain" won't drop the threat to ZERO when I need it most...Friday afternoon/evening for the big dance, but MNR won't be in my "doghouse" unless some sort of huge bow-echo derecho knocks out all power at the Elks Lodge Friday night.

As for Mr. Q, I haven't seen much from him here since the heat waves began...he will probably try to cite "seasonal variability" and "exiting El Nino" as excuses, anyway.

Finally, the CO2 alarmists need to be reminded that METHANE [CH4] has a far greater "greenhouse" footprint than carbon dioxide, and we've been getting plenty of METHANE bubbling up from the Gulf with that oil leak...not all of it is being flared off by the recovery vessels. That which is being flared off adds a bit of CO2 to the air. Some of the CH4 may be getting dissolved in the Gulf then released to the air miles from the recovery scene.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | July 6, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Just curious... where were the 5 all-time heat records set/tied during May/June?

Posted by: spgass1 | July 6, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Bombo, you do realize that Mr Q lives in or near Portland where it has been unusually cool and wet? Nothing resembling a heat wave there.

Posted by: eric654 | July 6, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

A bit off-topic, but in considering other temperatures around the globe...While we were approaching +100F on Sunday, the South Pole dropped to -103F (fairly typical for the dead of Southern Hemisphere winter). Quite the difference from our heat wave.

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | July 6, 2010 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Andrew, thank you for the additional data. It shows how interrelated all human activities are.

Posted by: dcm93446 | July 6, 2010 5:51 PM | Report abuse

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