California Is About to Get Its Second Major Heat Wave in Less Than a Month

The LNU Lightning Complex Fire on August 20, 2020 in Healdsburg, California.
The LNU Lightning Complex Fire on August 20, 2020 in Healdsburg, California.

It’s going to be hot as hell in California—again. The state, as well as Arizona and Nevada, are expected to see a record breaking heat wave this Labor Day weekend.

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These extreme temperatures are expected to blanket the Southwest just two weeks after the region saw another heat wave smashed records. The intense heat and accompanying lightning storm sparked more than 900 wildfires in California, including the second and third largest fires in state history (both are still blazing). The fires also introduced us to the term “gigafire,” used to denote more than 1 million acres burned.

Now, California is about to get a redo of the heat portion of last month’s catastrophe. In fact, according to the National Weather Service (NWS)—which called the coming heat “dangerous”—some areas might get even hotter than they did then.

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On Saturday, temperatures are predicted to climb to 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (27 to 36 degrees Celsius) above normal or higher, with some parts of the Los Angeles area expected to reach up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46.1 degrees Celsius). Overnight lows are only expected to drop to the 70s and 80s, making for extremely uncomfortable sleeping weather. The NWS has issued excessive heat warnings across most of the state as well as parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon.

All of this heat could spark even more fires across the region, which has already seen 1.5 million acres burned down since August 15. That’s especially true because the heat is expected to be caused by a high-pressure atmospheric area moving over the western U.S., created by changes in the powerful weather-steering winds known as the jet stream. This high pressure system is expected to also bring dry conditions, which could turn California’s forests into a tinderbox. While there’s no storms that sparked with the state fire agency called a “lightning siege” this time around, most fires in the West are started by human activities so the risk remains high.

Smoke and haze are also expected to persist throughout the weekend, creating hazardous air quality. Data shows that wildfires last month caused parts of the Southwest to have the dirtiest air in the world. Air quality issues are longstanding in California, but amid the spread of respiratory virus covid-19, those concerns are even more pronounced. NWS also warned that this weekend’s heat and fires could bring energy outages to the state, as more people close their windows to keep the smoke out and turn on air conditioners. That means some may be forced to weather the heat and fires without power, another unfortunate similarity to the last heat wave.

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Thankfully, this heat wave is not expected to last as long as that last one. Temperatures will start climbing Friday and begin to tick back down on Monday.

Extreme heat waves and dangerous wildfires are both tied to the climate crisis. The world is getting hotter, drier, and more flammable. California has borne the brunt of those trends, but other parts of the world are also suffering as the climate changes. To avoid even more hellish conditions down the road, world leaders need to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Staff writer, Earther

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DISCUSSION

knowonelse
knowonelse

Had a scare a couple of weeks ago with the Jones fire. We were on the edge of the evacuation warning area. I was visiting our kid’s family in Washington, so they had to prepare without me. Cal Fire quickly worked on it and held it away, and my grandkid and I were paying close attention on the internet. Hard to do much when being 12 hours driving distant.

We were planning on going to the mountains for the weekend to get away from the heat, but decided that the most prudent action would be to stay and be ready for an evacuation instead. We did spend the time between then and how getting serious about packing go-bags, getting the camper ready for use, and organizing and identifying things to grab if we must. And moving seldom-used items to storage away from potential burning.

Tip: Add reflective stickers to everything that needs to be grabbed to go that can’t be packed ahead of time, like lock boxes, hard drives, medication bags, etc. Must figure worst case scenario for when the evacuation call is received- at night with no power. Flashlights can spot the reflective stickers easily.