August 2018: Ninth Warmest August on Record for NYC

August 2018 was a hot month in New York City. It produced two separate heat waves and a total of seven days with readings in the 90s. Overnight lows were also mostly warmer than normal. In the end, the city’s mean temperature for the month was 78.1°F, which is 2.9°F above average. That means August 2018 is now tied with August 1955 as the city’s ninth  warmest August on record.

August was also an over-achiever in terms of precipitation. In all, a whopping 8.59 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. That marks the city’s wettest August in seven years. Of this impressive total, 2.90 inches fell on a single day (August 11), setting a new daily rainfall record for the date. The city, on average, gets 4.44 inches of rain for the entire month.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Third Heat Wave of the Summer Bakes the Big Apple

The third heat wave of the summer baked the Big Apple this week.

The threshold for what constitutes a heat wave varies by region, but here in the New York City area it is defined as three consecutive days with temperatures reaching 90°F or higher. This week, the mercury in Central Park reached 94°F on Tuesday, 92°F on Wednesday, and 90°F on Thursday. With the dew point temperature in the 70s, it felt even hotter.

There was also little relief from the heat at night. All three dates tied or set new record warm low readings. The temperature only dropped to 79°F on Tuesday, 81°F on Wednesday, and 78°F on Thursday. The previous record high minimum temperature for all three dates was 78°F.

The main driver of this dramatic heat and humidity was a dominant Bermuda High, a large area of high pressure situated off the east coast. Spinning clockwise, it steered hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico toward the northeast.

The normal high and low for this time of year in New York City is 81°F and 66°F, respectively.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

The Deadly Danger of Lightning

Thunderstorms are impressive displays of the power of nature. However, they are also extremely dangerous.

On average, according to NOAA, lightning claims the lives of 47 people every year in the US and seriously injures hundreds more. To date in 2018, lightning has killed 16 people across eight states. The most recent victim was struck this Saturday at Sunken Meadows State Park on Long Island, NY. Local officials say the man was sheltering under a tree during an early evening storm.

Lightning comes in variety of forms, but the cloud to ground variety is the most threatening to people. A typical bolt carries a current of about 300 million volts and can heat the air around it to 50,000°F. That is five times hotter than the surface of the sun.

This type of lightning, NOAA says, strikes the US about 25 million times a year. However, 70% of lightning fatalities occur during the summer months. The season marks not only the peak of thunderstorm activity in the US, but also the time of year when people spend more time outdoors.

Top ten activities that contributed the most to lightning deaths in the US, 2006-2017. Credit: NWS

According to a NWS report on lightning deaths in the US from 2006 to 2017, the vast majority of victims were men engaged in an outdoor leisure activity. Listing a variety of different pastimes at the time they were struck, fishing topped the list as the most deadly. It accounted for nearly 10% of the lightning fatalities during that period.

To avoid becoming a statistic, follow the advice of the NWS – “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Credit: NWS/NOAA

Weather and Health: Hot Car Deaths

Summer weather can pose a number of health and safety concerns, from poor air quality to being hit by lightning. One of the more deadly risks for children, however, is heatstroke when they are left in a hot car.

Since 1998, according to kidsandcars.org, there has been an average of 37 hot car deaths in the US every year. That is one every nine days. This year, there have already been 34 deaths reported.

Credit: USA Today

On a sunny day, the interior temperature of a parked car can increase 19°F in just ten minutes. That means if the outside air temperature is a seemingly comfortable 70°F, the inside of the car can heat up to near 90°F in a very short period. The situation is even worse when the outside temperature is higher and the car sits in the sun longer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, if the human body reaches 104°F, organ damage and death become a real risk. Children are even more vulnerable because their smaller bodies can heat up between three to five times faster than that of an adult. Most hot car victims are under the age of three.

These dangerous situations develop in a number of different ways. Children can sometimes find their own way into a car while playing outside or a guardian leaves them alone in a vehicle for what seems like a quick errand. However, the majority of hot car deaths occur when a parent or caregiver gets distracted or has a change in their daily routine and simply forgets that a child is in the back seat when they park their car.

To avoid a heartbreaking tragedy, remember to Look Before You Lock!

NoHeatstroke.org

Lightning: The Five Second Rule

As a thunderstorm moves into an area, lightning  illuminates the sky followed by rumbles of thunder. Using this sequence of events and applying some simple math, you can estimate how far away the storm is.

Since lightning travels at approximately the speed of light – 186,000 miles per second – you see it almost instantly.  Thunder, on the other hand, travels at the speed of sound – about one mile in five seconds. These different rates of travel allow you to estimate the distance between yourself and the lightning.

To do this, count the seconds between seeing the flash of lightning and hearing the clap of thunder. Divide that number by five and you will know how far away the  lightning is. For example, if you count fifteen seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder, the lightning is about three miles away.

But, remember, if you can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike. So, as NOAA recommends, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Cloud to ground lightning strike. Credit: NWS

Second Heat Wave of the Summer Bakes the Big Apple

New York City is sweltering through its second heat wave of the summer.

The threshold for what constitutes a heat wave varies by region, but here in the NYC area it is defined as three consecutive days with temperatures reaching 90°F or higher. Wednesday marked the city’s fourth day of scorching conditions.

With the dew point temperature in the 70s, it felt even hotter. The heat index – the so-called real feel temperature – reached into the triple digits.

The main driver of this dramatic heat and humidity is a dominant Bermuda High, a large area of high pressure situated off the east coast. Spinning clockwise, it has been steering hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico toward the northeast.

While these conditions are oppressive, they can also be dangerous. The NWS issued both heat advisories and air quality alerts for the city over the past few days.

The normal high for this time of year in the Big Apple is 84°F.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Weather and Health: Air Quality

The air we breathe is not always good for us. It often contains pollution, which can cause or aggravate a number of health issues including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is responsible for monitoring air pollution across the United States. Calculated on the Air Quality Index (AQI), a standardized indicator, the agency’s daily reports focus on the health effects people may suffer as a result of breathing polluted air. The scale runs from 0-500 with increasing AQI values correlating to higher levels of pollution and an escalating risk to public health. Values above 100 are considered unhealthy.

Unlike some other environmental challenges, air pollution is nearly impossible to avoid, as we all need to breathe. Caused mainly by vehicle exhaust, power generation, and industrial emissions, its sources are ubiquitous. The five major air pollutants measured on the AQI are, ground level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

Pollutants often build to unsafe concentrations on days with very high temperatures and/or a lack of wind.  Ground level ozone, for example, forms when nitrogen oxides react with heat and U.V. light near the surface. Air quality alerts, therefore, are often issued in conjunction with heat advisories.

July 2018: Wettest July in Fourteen Years for NYC

July is usually the wettest month on the calendar for New York City and this year it did not disappoint. In fact, it was an overachiever. In all, 7.45 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. That marks the city’s wettest July in fourteen years. Of this impressive total, 2.24 inches fell on a single day, which caused flash flooding around the five-boros. The city, on average, gets 4.60 inches of rain for the entire month.

In terms of temperature, July started with an extended heat wave and then produced some below average readings toward the end of the month. Highs ranged from a relatively cool 77°F to a steamy 96°F. However, with six days in the 90s, the warmth won out in the end. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 77.6°F, which is 1.1°F above average.

Weather Lingo: Humidity

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” This old adage heard throughout much of the summer in the eastern US, refers to how the amount of water vapor in the air affects human comfort. Since the body’s main source of cooling is evaporation of perspiration, the more moisture there is in the air, the less evaporation takes place and the warmer we feel. Two ways to indicate atmospheric moisture content are relative humidity and the dew point temperature.

Relative humidity (RH) measures the actual amount of moisture in the air compared to the total amount of moisture that the air can hold. It is expressed as a percentage and is commonly used in generic weather reports and apps. A high RH can produce fog and a low RH can cause rapid dehydration in both people and plants – important information for some sectors such farmers and crews fighting wildfires. But, since warm air can hold more moisture than cool air, the relative humidity changes as the air temperature changes.

The dew point temperature, on the other hand, is an absolute measurement and is often the preferred metric of meteorologists. It is the temperature to which air must be cooled in order to reach saturation. In other words, when the air temperature and the dew point temperature are same, the air is saturated and the relative humidity is 100%. If the air were to cool further, the water vapor would condense into liquid water, such as dew or precipitation.

The classic example of this phenomenon is a glass of cold liquid sitting on a table outside on a warm, muggy day. The beverage cools the air around it and beads of water form on the outside of the glass. The temperature at which the beads of water form is the dew point.

Simply put, the closer the dew point temperature is to the air temperature, the more humid it feels. In summer, when the air is warm and can hold a lot of moisture, a dew point temperature in the 50s is generally considered comfortable. Dew points in the 60s are thought of as muggy and once they reach the 70s or higher, the air can feel oppressive. On the opposite end of the spectrum, dew points in the 40s or lower are considered dry, and dry air has its own set of comfort issues

Wildfires Are Scorching the American West

Summer is wildfire season in the American West and it is off to a blazing start.

As of Monday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, fifty-nine large wildfires – defined as greater than 100 acres – are currently burning in nearly a dozen states. These include Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

One of the newest conflagrations, the Ferguson Fire, is raging just outside of Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. At the height of tourist season, the fire has closed down Highway 140, one of the main entrances to the Park. It has forced the evacuation of several communities along Yosemite’s western edge as well as some hotels inside the Park. Ignited on Friday, the fire has burned more than 9,000 acres and is only 2% contained. Sadly, it has also claimed the life of one firefighter who was battling the flames.

Another hard hit state is Colorado, where seven large fires are burning. The largest is the Spring Creek Fire, which stared at the end of June and has burned more than 108,000 acres in Costilla and Huerfano counties.

These huge fires are being fueled by extremely hot and dry conditions that have left the region’s vegetation susceptible to any type of spark. Just a few days ago, excessive heat advisories were in effect for a large swath of the west as temperatures soared well above average.

Year to date, 3.3 million acres in the US have been charred, which is above average for this point in the season. The country’s worst wildfire year on record was 2015 when more than ten million acres burned.

Ferguson Fire in the Sierra National Forest, outside of Yosemite National Park in California. Credit: InciWeb/BlakeScott