California is struggling through a record-breaking heatwave, as unprecedented late-season temperatures sweep across the West Coast. Meteorologists are now concerned about flash flooding as the leftovers from Hurricane Kay — which made landfall in Mexico on Thursday — brings heavy rain to southern California through the weekend.
While rain may seem like a welcome break for many heat-stricken Californians or a reprieve from the ongoing drought, the intensity combined with extremely dry land conditions could be dangerous. Additionally, the strong winds even have the potential to push temperatures up in some coastal cities.
Temperatures began to rise last week, peaking on Tuesday as ten cities hit record highs and more reached all-time highs for September. Temperatures in Sacramento reached 116 degrees F on Tuesday, breaking a record from 1925.
The national weather service issued an excessive heat warning that’s expected to last through 10 PM Friday. Despite the massive strain on the energy grid, major blackouts were avoided across the state in part due to Californian’s voluntary energy conservation efforts. State officials called on residents to reduce the use of electricity and to keep air conditioners at 78 degrees F.
Extreme heat waves are becoming more common as the climate crisis worsens across the globe, not just in the drought-stricken American West. China also recorded record high temperatures this summer, a sunken 11th-century church emerged from a waning reservoir in Spain, scientists recorded unprecedented glacier melt, and India was hit by such brutal spring temperatures that a seventeen story landfill burst into flames.
While heat waves may not seem as frightening as tornadoes or hurricanes, studies have shown them to be the most deadly of natural disasters. They destroy crops, cause food shortages, damage infrastructure, and are silent killers of humans and wildlife. In the 1960s there were roughly two heatwaves a year across the United States; today there are six per year on average, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Heat waves most often cause heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Although heat stroke is the more serious illness — sometimes causing the sufferer to pass out or have a seizure — heat exhaustion is also dangerous, causing dizziness and nausea. High temperatures can be particularly deadly for young children, the elderly, and those with heart conditions.
California is currently suspended under a heat dome, which occurs when the atmosphere traps hot air rising off of the ocean and pushes it down. As the air is compressed it grows hotter and boils the surrounding area. Temperatures are expected to begin to drop Friday and continue to fall over the weekend.