Friday, July 6, 2007

Independence Day -- reckoning with global warming

This week, I made an unexpected trip to Florida and returned to Oregon via Las Vegas.  As we landed in Las Vegas, the crew announced that it was 107 -- at midnight -- on July 4th.  I thought it was strange.  And then I read the news: BH link-AP

Temperatures in Boise reached 104 degrees Thursday afternoon. Forecasters predicted a high of 107 on Friday - six degrees higher than the 101 record for that date set in 1985....temperatures in part of the West were climbing so high that authorities warned residents of southern Nevada, southeastern California and northwestern Arizona that outdoor activities could be dangerous except during the cooler early morning hours. Phoenix reached 115 degrees; Baker, Calif., reached 125 degrees.... St. George, Utah, hit 115 degrees by 5 p.m., a day after a nearby weather sensor recorded an unofficial reading of 118, which would top the the state’s all-time record of 117 set in St. George in 1985. Summer temperatures across Utah are running 10 to 15 degrees above normal, meteorologist Brandon Smith said...."To be honest, as far as temperatures, for as far out as we can see there’s no relief," he said.  Around Las Vegas - where temperatures reached 116 degrees Thursday afternoon - transformers were overheating and causing electrical pole fires because of all the people switching on their air conditioners, said Scott Allison with the Clark County Fire Department.  In Montana, farmers anxiously watched their crops and thermometers. High temperatures for a handful of days can harm crop yield. "Prolonged heat is devastating. Four or five days of it is going to be hard," said wheat farmer Lynn Nordwick near Poplar, Mont. Even Stanley, Idaho, which at more than 6,000 feet elevation is routinely the coldest place in the lower 48 states, was seeing record highs, the National Weather Service said. The remote town in the Sawtooth Mountains reached 91 degrees Thursday, and was expected to hit 93 degrees Friday.  In Spokane, Wash., the temperature reached 101 degrees... Northeastern Oregon residents were experiencing what was expected to be the hottest day of the year on Thursday, with temperatures reaching 108 in Pendleton and 107 in Hermiston. 

The heat and a dry spring raised concern among firefighters.   "We’re really primed to burn right now," said Dennis Winkler, an assistant fire management officer for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. "We’re well above average in terms of fire danger for this time of year."   An index that helps fire officials estimate how fast flames would spread was at its highest point for early July in the past decade, said Dave Quinn, who manages an interagency dispatch center at the La Grande Airport in Oregon.

The heat wave began last week after a large high pressure center developed over Arizona, said National Weather Service forecaster Paul Flatt in Boise. A weather pattern was pushing that high-pressure center north into Canada, Flatt said, but most of the West is expected to experience high temperatures into next week.

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