A Tale of Two Highs: The Science Behind the Excessive Heat in the Northeast

Summer is the season for warm weather and even the occasional heatwave. But, the excessive heat that is gripping the eastern United States this weekend is exceptional. Its source is essentially a tale of highs – two areas of high pressure, that is.

The first is a Bermuda High. This is a large, semi-permanent, area of high pressure situated off the east coast. Spinning clockwise, it is strongest in the summer months and often steers hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico toward the northeast. It is usually the main cause of heatwaves in the region.

This current heatwave, however, is getting an extra boost from a second area of high pressure that is sitting over the central US. Also spinning clockwise, it is funneling hot air aloft from the southwest toward the northeast. Traveling eastward, this hot air must pass over the Appalachian Mountains, which run parallel to the eastern seaboard from Georgia to Maine. Following the topography downslope on the lee side of the mountains, the air compresses and warms even further. This is producing the exceptionally high air temperatures, such as the upper 90s and triple digits reported in cites across the region.

Combining this excessively hot air with the humidity being pumped into the area by the Bermuda High, the heat index or real feel temperatures are well above 100°F in many places.

This type of weather is more than just uncomfortable, it is dangerous. To avoid health complications, the American Red Cross recommends avoiding strenuous outdoor activity, drinking plenty of fluids, and cooling off in air-conditioned spaces when possible.

Credit: NOAA/NWS

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About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is an environmental communicator and visual artist working at the intersection of art and science. She is passionate about exploring, learning, and sharing information about the natural world. She has presented her interdisciplinary work in a variety of mediums at venues and conferences around the world.