Most all-time heat records are broken by one degree. Perhaps two.
However, the heat wave that swept the Pacific Northwest and beyond shattered Portland's all time record by four degrees Fahrenheit (it could rise more), while in other places, the extreme episode broke all-time records of 10 degrees.
Jeff Weber, a meteorologist at University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (an organization that performs and facilitates earth science), said, "It's an amazing event."
What has happened?
Atmospheric scientists and meteorologists knew that the heat would be extreme and could challenge any records. It was a powerful combination of events that brought about a hot weather pattern, known as a heat dome. Temperatures were also elevated by the constantly warming Western climate (which is significantly hotter than 100 years ago). A majority of the Pacific Northwest is currently in drought. Drought can exacerbate heat.
However, that's not all. Another weather factor was also involved and pushed things up a few notches. The heat was amplified by dry winds that travel downslope from east to west. These winds are known as "Santa Ana winds" in southern California, but they have different names depending on where they are located. The winds generally travel from higher elevations (e.g., mountains in eastern Oregon), and the sinking air compresses to create more heat in lower regions, such as Portland. This is also known as "compressional heating."
"It's a perfect storm."
Weber explained that the heat from those hot winds has intensified an already extreme heat event. Many coastal areas were not spared.
Weber said, "It's a perfect storm."
The resultant temperatures are unmatched in recorded history in the Pacific Northwest. This kind of heat is not something that many people or buildings are prepared for. According to The Seattle Times, Seattle is the most air-conditioned metropolitan area in the United States.
Weber stated that "it's hitting an area people don't want AC." "The discomfort is overwhelming for the people." In fact, heat-related illnesses spiked in Portland during extreme weather. Heat illness can be serious: Extreme heat waves are the most deadly weather event in the United States.
SEE ALSO: How was the Earth last time that CO2 levels were so high?
Rare heat waves are so unusual as this one in the Pacific Northwest. As mentioned above, strong meteorological events and climatic events converged at June's conclusion. However, as the world warms, heat records or records of high temperatures now outnumber lower or colder records. As an example, there are twice as many daily records of heat than cold records.
Extreme events (hot or cold) are not unusual. However, climate scientists predict that heat waves will become more intense as the world gets warmer.