WTF Is A 'Heat Dome' And Should We Just Plan On Living In Sweaty Misery Forever?

by Amber Leventry

The Pacific Northwest has been experiencing a dangerous heat wave that has been more than uncomfortable. At least 63 people have died in Oregon since the beginning of the record-breaking temperatures. Roads are crumbling, paint is sliding off of buildings, power cables are melting, and 33 million people were under emergency heat alerts. Our current infrastructure is literally not built for the extreme heat that most of the country is experiencing. The cause is climate change, but the high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are specifically being caused by a “heat dome.”

A heat dome is a massive amount of warm air built into a wavy and long jet stream that gets stuck in places where it normally wouldn’t occur. The ridge of high pressure currently hovering over the Pacific Northwest is creating an Omega block of weather (because it’s shaped like the Greek letter Omega) that is keeping hot air in and pushing it down. This sinking air creates compression, adds to the heat in the air column, and blows winds downward which also generates heat. Basically, a heat dome is Mother Nature’s version of a Dutch oven. We’re all cooking in our own gases.

What’s adding to this current heat dome is the fact that climate change has raised the base temperatures in the Pacific Northwest by 3-4 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution. We humans have fucked up our planet, and while I want to make a joke about boob sweat or list the things we could cook on sidewalks, this isn’t funny.

Our unprecedented weather events are becoming more predictable in that they should be planned for. The occurrence happening in the Pacific Northwest would, statistically speaking be a once-in-a-1,000-year occurrence in a “normal climate.” But the speed in which humans have caused climate change is not normal. It’s not the queers angering God who have caused ice storms in Texas, floods in Michigan, or deadly temperatures several degrees hotter than previously set records. Humans have burned too many fossil fuels, cut down too many forests, developed too many cities, roads, and relied on farming systems that feed more than our hunger. The meat-manufacturing industry is one of the top contributors to greenhouse gases and global warming.

We should start to expect the negative effects of climate change, and demand more of ourselves — and our government — to slow down climate change and to create infrastructure that supports it. There are ways to slow down human-caused climate change, but it’s going to take changing the way we build homes, use energy, and find ways to counter our carbon footprint. We need to switch to renewable energy like wind or solar power. We need to drive electric cars and/or use public transportation. We need to support businesses that use sustainable, climate-smart practices. We need to make our homes more energy efficient. We need to pull carbon out of the atmosphere by planting trees and investing in carbon capture and storage practices.

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This is a big ask for folks who can barely make ends meet, but a collective effort to do what we can needs to happen if we’re going to make it through the summer—or any season—safely.

In many places, the temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are 30 degrees hotter than what is average for this time of year. Many people don’t have air conditioning and not everyone is able—or wants—to go to a cooling station. Folks are flocking to beaches and water where possible, but many of the public pools in Portland, Oregon were closed because the outside temperatures were too hot for employees. It’s too hot to go to the pool, y’all.

During hot temperatures it’s important to know the signs of heat exhaustion and stroke and to get help immediately if you experience any distress. Warning signs of heat-related illnesses include: dizziness; headache; nausea; muscle cramps; passing out; heavy sweating; hot, red skin; and confusion.

According to the CDC, in order to stay cool before the heat becomes a risk, folks should stay inside air-conditioned buildings if possible, stay hydrated, and avoid strenuous outdoor work or exercise if you can. While trying to stay cool, it’s important to drink plenty of cold water, wipe your head and neck with a damp, cool towel, spray your skin with cool or room-temperature water, and cover your windows with blankets or dark paper to keep the light and heat out. And be sure to give special care to pets, kids, older folks, and those with conditions that make them more vulnerable to the heat.

Many folks are also worried about the widespread drought that is making the heat worse. The heat is extending and intensifying the dry conditions and the cycle dangerously feeds into itself. The Northwest is seeing unusually dry conditions expand quickly this summer and as of June 22, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that nearly 80% of the region was in drought. This is just as fire season is starting which is predicted to be “above normal.” In other words, let the professionals light the fireworks, cool it on the firepits, and don’t set off any gender reveal explosions. Don’t be an asshole, okay?

People are hot, miserable, and scared; their homes and livelihoods are at stake. Temperatures are expected to start cooling down soon, but our country has a very big problem to solve if we don’t want these heat waves to be the expectation.