Heatwave 2009 and Global Warming: Any Connection?…Not Really


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Doesn’t it feel great outside today? I woke up to my house at 73 degrees…about 20 degrees cooler than it was yesterday evening. And don’t worry…we aren’t pegged to reach anywhere near the temperatures we’ve experinced this past week anytime soon.

I saw just a few comments on local stories across the area that covered the heatwave look something like this: “is there any connection between this heatwave and global warming?” Interesting thought, though I don’t think we could flat out blame this heatwave on global warming. It is interesting to note, however, that no other year since records were kept at Sea-Tac (which started in 1897, by the way) did temperatures exceed 100 degrees (of course, when Sea-Tac hit 100 degrees in the summers of 1994, 1977 and 1941, other areas across the western part of our state did exeed 100).

Here’s one thing to consider: Sea-Tac hit 100 degrees 3 times before July 29th, 2009, two of which happened during a period of no alarming global warming trend, and even a scare of global cooling (my parents definitley remember the global cooling scare of the 70s).

Another thing to think about is this: we’ve been under a global warming alert for quite sometime now. Since 1998-2008, 6 out of the 10 summers we’ve had here have been either cooler than normal or much cooler than normal, with the other 4 warmer than normal. In 10 years we haven’t had a “normal” summer, though some of the warmer than normal years were at least close to normal. 

The heatwave we just experienced was the result of a mammoth dome of high pressure that narrowly extended from the west coast up through B.C. and into Alaska (Barrow, AK even reported temperatures in the 70s! Typically they’re in the 40s and 50s) Oddly enough, this dome of high pressure didn’t affect the Eastern portions of the West Coast much at all. It was almost as if this heatwave was deliberately directed at us so as to break some long time records, ignoring areas that are commonly this hot all the time like Eastern WA and OR.

If the west coast were the center of the universe we could easily say this is a sign of further warming of this globe…but remember…we have neighbors in the midwest and east coast who have been experiencing a much cooler and wetter than normal summer. Look at this July temperature map (through the 24th):


The red/orange colors are warmer than normal, white is normal and the blueish colors are cooler than normal temperatures. Now, this map doesn’t illustrate our heatwave because it is only up to the 24th right now, but you can clearly see the western third of the country has been above normal while the eastern 2/3 of  the country have been below to much below normal. Try selling the “global warming is accelerating!” phrase to them!

But this brings up another point: I don’t think this is solely one thing—global warming or cooling, which is why I prefer the term “climate change” over the alternative(s). As many of you have noticed, the past 3 or 4 years have brought very extreme/historic/anomalous weather to not only the Pacific Northwest but also to many areas around the world from droughts to flooding to snowstorms to heatwaves to biting cold to hurricanes. It is undeniable that natural disasters have certainly been on the upswing.

Obviously something meteorologically and astronomically unstable is going on within our Earth, but one thing is for certain: more extremes are likely to continue to occur throughout the world until something is ironed out. What that something is I don’t think anyone knows quite yet.

This actually brings up an interesting discussion about thoughts concerning the upcoming fall/winter for the Pacific Northwest. Let’s just say I’m not alone in the belief that we could be in for another extreme season.

What are your thoughts? I’m sure there are those of you out there who know a lot more about the climate than I do. It’d be interesting to get your perspective.

Have a great day and enjoy the much cooler weather!

Matthew Leach

Forecasting Kitsap




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