Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Packing Heat: August Delivers Weather Wallop

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Packing Heat: August Delivers Weather Wallop

Article excerpt

You know it's hot when manhole covers are popping off streets in Manhattan like popcorn, and bats - the flying kind - are leaving their attic hideaways in New England to join humans cooling off on lower floors.

Americans are used to bad-hair days and bare shelves in the fan aisle this time of year. But the heat in recent days, combined with a drought affecting half the United States, is making this stretch of August as uncomfortable as a burlap shirt.

In cities from Boston to Portland, Ore., record-breaking temperatures this week caused some workers to willingly stay at their desks and prompted vacationers to call visitors bureaus in New England looking for places to swim. Anywhere.

"It's crazy, man. This heat is unbelievable," says Daniel Cardona, a construction worker in New York, who on Thursday had been working since 5 a.m. and by 9 a.m. had already soaked through three shirts.

Cities that rarely see the mercury hit 100 degrees or higher, like many in Oregon, are coping with not only sweltering heat, but the effects of ongoing fires as well. Heat records are being shattered all over Oregon - it was up to 108 near the California border - and as a result wildfires continue to spring up and grow, costing $5 million a day to fight.

Relief is expected to come to some parts of the country by the weekend, but the weather is still keeping meteorologists - perhaps the people most loved and hated this time of year - on their toes. It's too soon to know where this summer as a whole will fit in the record books. But July already has been noted for warmer-than- normal and drier-than-normal conditions. Nationally, last month was the fifth-warmest July on record. Globally, it was the second- warmest since 1880, when the earliest reliable measurements began.

Easterners may be abuzz with talk of global warming, thanks to the sizzling temperatures this week. But one climate expert says this is business as usual.

"What we're seeing is not all that unusual," says Wayne Higgins, a climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration(NOAA) in Camp Springs, Md.

A few days of record-breaking highs in New England can make it seem as though odd things are happening with the weather, but this summer has yet to match that of 1980, for example, when temperatures topped 90 degrees in the Washington area for 67 days.

But while high temperatures are dinner-table conversation in many homes, for much of the country the big issue remains drought. Roughly half of the territory in the lower 48 states is experiencing moderate to extreme drought, according to NOAA. Those conditions are likely to continue well into the fall in the Northeast and Northwest, according to the agency's latest seasonal outlook, released yesterday.

Indeed, Dr. Higgins says, drought conditions typified by the lack of a summer monsoon season are the factors that he finds most worrisome. …

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