It’s been a tough summer filled with severe heatwaves and heat domes across the U.S., but according to experts, Northeast Ohio has fared better this year.
A heatwave is defined as a period of two or more days of high temperatures, according to the National Weather Service. But depending on where you are in the country, heatwaves can feel different.
In Northeast Ohio, summer temperatures average in the mid-80s. So, a heatwave would mean prolonged temperatures around 90 degrees or more.
“It’s … rather not common for our maximum temperature for the summer to reach over 95 degrees here” said Robert LaPlante with the National Weather Service Cleveland. “While points to the south, temperatures in the mid-90s are fairly common, and obviously down in the desert southwest temperatures well over 100 degrees are … common there.”
Though there has been an increase in the frequency of heatwaves across the globe due, in part, to human-caused climate change, LaPlante said Northeast Ohio may be faring better than other states.
“What I can gather here locally is that the maximum temperature of any given summer has not risen appreciably — hasn’t risen at all — during the whole period of a record from, well, let’s say 1871 up through … now.”
The longest heatwave in the Cleveland area occurred in September of 1953 where there was a nine-day stretch of temperatures 95 degrees or more, LaPlante said. Most recently, in 2020 there was a five-day heatwave where temperatures reached of 95 degrees or hotter.
The high temperatures across the U.S. likely wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for human-caused climate change, according to a July report by World Weather Attribution. Human-caused climate change refers to human activity leading to the increase of greenhouse gas emissions brought on by the use and burning of fossil fuels.
“Without human induced climate change these heat events would however have been extremely rare,” states the report produced by a group of international climate researchers. “Maximum heat like in July 2023 would have been virtually impossible to occur in the US/Mexico region and Southern Europe if humans had not warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels.”
July was the hottest month on record worldwide, and, according to recent reporting by NPR, heatwaves are the world’s deadliest weather events killing more people in the U.S. than hurricanes, tornadoes and floods combined.
According to researchers, change is necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent further warming and hotter, longer heatwaves in the future.
“Unless the world rapidly stops burning fossil fuels, these events will become even more common and the world will experience heatwaves that are even hotter and longer-lasting,” the World Weather Attribution report states. “A heatwave like the recent ones would occur every 2-5 years in a world that is 2°C warmer than the preindustrial climate.”
The report’s conclusion is supported by recent research from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel’s 2023 report found that environmental hazards become more likely as the planet grows warmer.
“Every increment of warming results in rapidly escalating hazards,” the report states. “More intense heatwaves, heavier rainfall and other weather extremes further increase risks for human health and ecosystems. In every region, people are dying from extreme heat.”
Based on National Weather Service’s recorded temperatures, there’s “not a lot of evidence” that climate change is contributing to a rise in the maximum temperature each year, or to the frequency of heatwaves in Northeast Ohio, LaPlante said.
“What has happened so far is that the average temperature for the minimum or the maximum temperature has risen some in the last 30 years,” he said. “Our new normals reflect over a degree warming for the overnight lows and the maximum temperatures during the summer, but the individual number of heatwaves in all has not changed.”
Northeast Ohio has a few factors that help keep the region cool, LaPlante said, due to the cooling effect from Lake Erie and consistent rain events that help retain moisture in the soil.
“Most of the heating from the sun there goes into heating up the air here,” he said. “A lot of … the sunshine solar radiation is used to evaporate moisture. So as long as the soil moisture is near normal, it’s harder to have the extreme heat in the eastern states.”
This doesn’t mean Northeast Ohio is immune to the effects of climate change, said Christopher Colón, Northeast Ohio Regional Field Director at the Ohio Environmental Council.
“Northeast Ohio has the potential, the great potential to be a climate haven,” Colón said. “But, you know, just because we’re not seeing the great effects that places like Arizona and Texas are seeing now, we still will see those things in the future. We can be that haven, but we have to mitigate those effects now.”
The best way to do that, Colón said, is to build out climate-resilient infrastructure.
“When we’re doing large revitalization projects, taking into account the effects of those projects on the environment,” he said. “So, including green infrastructure like permeable pavers, green spaces, things like that.”
Colón also recommends communities consider growing their tree canopies as an option to keep neighborhoods and residents cool.
The communities [that] have more trees, have a lower … average cool temperature in the community,” he said. “So, planting more trees in communities will help with some of the rising temperatures as well.”
It’s unlikely that Northeast Ohio will experience a major heatwave this year, LaPlante said. But it’s possible that the region could see summer temperatures extending into early fall.
Source: ideastream public media