Record heatwave threatens 130 million Americans as climate crisis escalates

"Both the record-breaking temperatures and the duration of heat present a clear and present danger, particularly for children, elders, people with disabilities, and people who work outside."

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More than 130 million Americans are under threat from a record-breaking heatwave that has engulfed vast swaths of the country. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued heat advisories this weekend, warning of “extremely dangerous” conditions in the West and persistent humidity in the East. The ongoing weather pattern is expected to sustain a heatwave for much of the West Coast, while oppressive heat and humidity will continue along the Eastern Seaboard, into the Southeast and Deep South.

Scorching temperatures have been recorded across the United States, with Arizona experiencing some of the highest. Phoenix saw its temperature hit 118°F on Friday, toppling a record set four decades ago. Tragically, a 10-year-old boy died after suffering a “heat-related medical emergency” during a hike in the state. Extreme heat kills approximately 1,200 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

California cities like Redding and Palm Springs also broke temperature records this weekend, as the state grapples with devastating wildfires. Death Valley reached 128°F on Saturday, breaking a daily record set in 2007. Even areas less accustomed to blistering heat have not been spared; Oregon declared an extreme heat emergency, with cities like Eugene, Portland, and Salem experiencing triple-digit temperatures.

The heatwave has highlighted the vulnerability of certain populations, including children, elders, people with disabilities, and outdoor workers. The CDC’s data underscores the deadly potential of extreme heat, particularly when compounded by high humidity. “Young children and pets should never be left unattended in vehicles under any circumstances,” read a National Weather Service advisory for the Baltimore area, where heat index values could climb to 110°F.

In response to the extreme conditions, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek declared an emergency. “Extreme weather events are now the new normal,” Kotek stated, emphasizing the need for preparedness and long-term planning to address the impacts of climate change. Measures are being taken by state and local governments to bolster their preparedness and response capabilities, not only for this year but for the years to come.

Research has consistently linked the climate crisis to the increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves. Scientists at World Weather Attribution estimated that the climate crisis made the deadly heatwave that hit Mexico and the U.S. South last month 35 times more likely. Antonia Juhasz, a senior researcher on fossil fuels at Human Rights Watch, commented, “As a result of the burning of fossil fuels, heatwaves are becoming more common, and intense heatwaves are more frequent. We can break the cycle, we can make oil companies stop burning fossil fuels.”

Record-breaking temperatures were recorded in various states. The National Weather Service extended excessive heat warnings for much of the Southwest into the following week, forecasting three-digit temperatures higher by 15°F to 30°F than average. In the Pacific Northwest, records could be broken in cities like Eugene, Portland, and Salem. Baltimore and other parts of Maryland are also under an excessive heat warning.

The current heatwave is part of a broader pattern of climate change observed globally. Alongside the record heat, the U.S. has faced extreme weather events such as wildfires in California, flooding in other regions, and other severe weather patterns. These events highlight the urgent need for comprehensive climate action to mitigate long-term impacts.

Public reactions to the heatwave and government responses have been mixed. While some have called for more aggressive climate policies, others have focused on immediate safety measures. Media coverage has emphasized the urgency of addressing the climate crisis to prevent future extreme weather events. Social media trends reflect a growing public sentiment on the need for immediate and meaningful action to combat climate change.

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek summarized the dire situation, stating, “In the interest of safety and human life over the next several days, I am declaring an emergency due to extreme heat. Both the record-breaking temperatures and the duration of heat present a clear and present danger, particularly for children, elders, people with disabilities, and people who work outside.”

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