This Week's Killer Heat Wave Threatens To Cause Earth’s Hottest Temps Ever

The Southwest may experience the hottest weather in recorded history. Still don't believe in global warming?

If you’re spending this week in California, Nevada, Arizona, or even parts of Wyoming and Idaho, prepare to burn. A potentially historic heat wave is headed your way from Thursday through next week, and experts warn of dangerously hot temperatures the likes of which may never before have been recorded on planet Earth.

Meteorologists say areas already dubbed “summer scorchers” are about to get hotter still. Death Valley, Calif. will reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit—just 4 degrees shy of the 1913 world record. Phoenix and Las Vegas should also prepare for the triple digits.

Climate Central reports a “stuck” weather pattern setting up across the U.S. and Canada is to blame for the swelter:

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“Starting this weekend, the jet stream — a fast-moving river of air at airliner altitudes that is responsible for steering weather systems — will form the shape of a massive, slithering snake with what meteorologists refer to as a deep ‘ridge’ across the Western states, and an equally deep trough setting up across the Central and Eastern states.”

According to CBS meteorologist Jeff Berardelli, the furnace once known as the deep Southwest is in for “a once-in-a-century-type” heat wave.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mark O’Malley told the Assoociated Press definitively that the Phoenix area will be at or above record levels, as well as parts of the southwestern U.S.

“This is the hottest time of the year but the temperatures that we’ll be looking at for Friday through Sunday, they’ll be toward the top,” he said.

Sin City is expected to close in on its 1961 record stretch of 10 consecutive days at or above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and excessive heat warnings are in effect in both Las Vegas and Phoenix from Friday through Monday.

Every heat wave is tied to short-term weather variability, but as Climate Central reports, heat waves are becomming increasingly common and intense as a consequence of manmade global warming. As global average surface temperatures increase, so the probability of extreme heat increases.  

The journal Geophysical Research Letters found that manmade global warming has increased the chances of extremely hot summers in Australia by more than five. Those odds are likely to increase over the next decade. 

Some scientists say ice melting in the Arctic sea due to global warming is causing the jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere to be more prone to weather extremes like heat.

In addition, a study published in the Proceedings of the American Academy of Sciences in 2012 provides data to suggest heat waves have already become more common worldwide than ever before.  It reports the chances of extreme summer heat has significantly increased alongside global temperatures. Between 1951 and 1980 those odds were 1 in 200, the study shows. The odds increased to nearly 1 in 10 between 1981 and 2010.

This week's heat wave is predicted to aggravate already dire drought conditions in the Southwest, but is not expected to impact the particularly fire-sensitive regions of Colorado and New Mexico, according to Climate Central. Climate Central's Andrew Freedman warns that such extreme heat poses a significant public health threat: 

"Extreme heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S. The NWS has warned that little relief from the hot temperatures can be expected at night, especially in urban areas, where temperatures may not drop below 90 degees Fahrenheit overnight." 

Still don't believe in global warming? Get back to me next week.
New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygene posts suggestions for dealing with heat-related illness on its website.

April M. Short is a freelance writer who focuses on health, wellness and social justice. She previously worked as AlterNet's drugs and health editor.