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In most of the country, it’s not just summer-level hot — it’s record-breaking levels of hot and humid. Two-thirds of the country is experiencing dramatic heat waves that are pushing heat indices into the hundreds, with some areas seeing index values as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to The National Weather Service, the ongoing, widespread heat wave is affecting the majority of the central and eastern regions of the U.S. Areas as diverse as the Plains and the Northeast are expected to see temperatures and heat indices so high that experts say they’re unlikely to be encountered again this year.
The National Weather Service attributes the heat wave, which may last through the weekend in many areas, to a massive high-pressure system pushing temperatures above their usual values. High pressure represents the movement of air toward the earth’s surface from the upper layers of the atmosphere, and as this air approaches the surface, it gets significantly warmer, explaining the current heat wave.
Currently, nearly 60 million people are enduring the effects of this heat wave, with states as far south as Texas and as far north as New York operating under heat advisories and warnings. In some areas, officials have considered declaring heat emergencies, such as in Boston, where Mayor Marty Walsh urged the city’s residents to take any precautions necessary to stay properly cool and hydrated in the face of heat indices as high as 105 degrees. Walsh’s office, however, stopped short of declaring an emergency.
In New York, which may see heat indices rise to 107 degrees, the city government is already taking stronger actions. The city has opened cooling centers, which are open to anyone in need of them now through Sunday evening, when the heat wave tapers. An official with the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene encouraged all citizens to find air-conditioned settings, saying that excessive heat “can kill.”
By the end of the ongoing heat wave, some estimate that as many as 290 million people could feel the heat wave’s impacts. This number represents nearly 90 percent of the entire U.S. population. These hundreds of millions of people may experience temperatures as much as 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the recorded average, so many are pointing to climate change as a major culprit in this heat wave. And although this heat wave has the potential to be quite dramatic, it may not come as that big a surprise given that last month was the hottest June ever recorded.
As this heat wave sweeps most of the nation, it’s vital to remember how to stay safe in extreme temperatures. The National Weather Service encourages U.S. residents to check its homepage to stay updated on heat alerts and access its other resources, such as its Heat Safety Tips and Resources guide. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control also urge people, during heat waves, to reacquaint themselves with the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses such as dehydration and heat stroke. Although hot days may seem like merely part of any old calendar year, they can truly be dangerous.