A number of weather and climatological events—heat waves, heavy rain, forest fires—have recently been in the news. Some of them have affected us directly, while others have had major impacts elsewhere. Here’s a weather wrap-up of notable events from the summer of 2019.
Record-Setting Heat Waves
There were record-setting heat waves in Europe and Alaska this past summer, as the World Meteorological Organization found June 2019 to be the hottest June ever recorded based upon average global temperatures and July 2019 at least tied for the hottest month ever recorded.
Europe experienced two major heat waves.
- The first, in late June, was caused by high pressure that brought air from the Sahara Desert to southwestern and central Europe, resulting in the hottest June ever recorded in Europe. The worst of the heat occurred on June 28, when the French town of Gallargues-le-Montueux had the highest temperature ever reported in that country when the mercury soared to 115°F.
- On July 24–25, several other countries in Europe reported their highest temperatures ever recorded, including 107.2°F in Begijnendijk, Belgium; 108.7°F in Lingen, Germany; 105.4°F in Steinsel, Luxembourg; 105.3°F in Gilze en Rijen, Netherlands; 101.7°F at the Cambridge University Botanic Garden in the United Kingdom; and 96.1°F in Mosjøen, Norway. Meanwhile, monthly or daily record highs were set in several other European nations.
North America featured baked Alaska, as the 49th state experienced its hottest day ever recorded, on July 6—only to exceed that record the next day. Anchorage hit 90°F on July 4, shattering its previous all-time record high of 85°F. Other cities that crushed their all-time record highs in the period from June 30 to July 7 included Kena, King Salmon, and Northway, with many other locales posting their hottest July temperatures on record.
In the contiguous states, temperatures from May through July have also been hotter than normal from the Gulf of Mexico northward through the Midwest and northeastward to southern New England. Temperatures have also been above normal in the Pacific Northwest, and below normal elsewhere, especially in the Rockies and High Plains (see Figure 1).
Wetness and Warmth
In some parts of the U.S., corn prices are higher than usual due to heavy spring rains that delayed the planting of corn and soybeans in the Heartland and Ohio Valley. While the weather since then has been mostly favorable for these crops, delays in planting have led to smaller crops and rising prices. Our best wishes certainly go out to all of the farmers and ranchers who are having a tough time.
Another thing: If, like me, you like avocados in your salads and sandwiches, you will have to pay more in the coming months, as a heat wave this past July in California has reduced this year’s state avocado harvest from more than 300 million pounds to only about 175 million.
What’s up with all of the wetness and warmth? Our weather patterns have been dominated by an upper atmospheric ridge in the east, which has allowed for heat to build up, while a persistent upper atmospheric trough has brought cooler Canadian air into the Plains and Rockies. In between, the clash of air masses created a battle zone from Missouri through Ohio, bringing storminess, heavy rains, and flooding.
Elsewhere around the world, fires have been in the news, as the Brazilian rain forest has had the most fires since at least 2013 (up 85 percent since last year), causing the Brazilian government to declare a state of emergency. July and August are typically the driest months in the Amazon rain forest, and fires are often set to clear out the land for ranching or farming. A satellite image of Brazil (see Figure 2) clearly shows the smoke plumes from the fires, which may have dire consequences for Earth’s atmosphere.
Figure 2. Smoke plumes from Brazilian forest fires.
The early stages of the California wildfire season were relatively mild, although the period from now through December is expected to have the greatest risk as seasonal Santa Ana winds pick up. Meanwhile, wildfires in British Columbia have been more numerous and destructive than usual, sparked largely by lightning strikes.
Melting Ice Caps
Finally, although melting ice caps in the Arctic hold the promise of allowing shorter ice-free routes for shipping, there was still enough ice for a female blue fox, just short of her first birthday, to travel more than 2,700 miles from Spitsbergen, Norway, to Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada, last year. It seems that foxes must be more advanced than humans—none of my children could even walk at that age.
For long-range weather predictions for this fall 2019 through summer 2020, pick up a copy of The 2020 Old Farmer’s Almanac! Here’s where to find the 2020 edition.