A freakish season of record temperatures, wildfire smoke and the destruction of Lahaina could soon become normal, climate experts say
It’s been a strange, cruel summer in the United States. From the dystopian orange skies above New York to the deadly immolation of a historic coastal town in Hawaii, the waning summer has been a stark demonstration of the escalating climate crisis – with experts warning that worse is to come.
A relentless barrage of extreme weather events, fueled by human-caused global heating, has swept the North American continent this summer, routinely placing a third of the US population under warnings of severe heat and unleashing floods, fire and smoke upon communities, with a record 15 separate disasters causing at least $1bn in damages so far this year.
The heat has been particularly withering in places like Phoenix, Arizona, which had a record 31 consecutive days at temperatures above 110F (43C), while an enormous heatwave across the central swath of the US this week caused schools to be closed in states such as Wisconsin, Colorado and Iowa and food banks to be shut in Nebraska.
In Miami, which had a record 46 days in a row with a heat index above 100F (37C), there was no respite even in the nearby ocean, with a raging marine heatwave turning the seawater to a temperature more normally seen in hot tubs, raising fears that Florida’s coral reef will be turned to mush.
“It’s been a shocking summer,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA. “We know most of this is happening because of long-term warming of the climate system so it’s not surprising, sadly, but you still get shocked by these extremes. Records are not just being broken, they are being shattered by wide margins.”