Nearly every corner of the Lower 48 is dealing with some sort of wild weather, with fires, floods, tornadoes and a punishing heat wave all wreaking havoc.
A staggering 120 million Americans are covered by alerts for extreme heat Tuesday while half a million customers in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley remain in the dark after violent thunderstorms knocked out power Monday night.
On Monday, the extreme weather was difficult to escape.
Record heat swelled from Nebraska to South Carolina. Chicago dealt with hurricane-force winds and probable tornadoes. Yellowstone National Park was blocked off to visitors due to roads made impassible by flooding. Fires raged in the Desert Southwest.
The seemingly disjointed atmospheric turmoil is all tied together in what meteorologists refer to as a “ring of fire” weather pattern. A stifling heat dome is parked over the Tennessee Valley, bringing exceptional heat and humidity while severe thunderstorms erupt along its northern fringe. In the dome’s wake, dry air has parched the Southwestern landscape, creating tinderbox conditions for fast-spreading fires. A dip in the jet stream on the heat dome’s northwest flank has allowed exceptional amounts of moisture to pour over the Northern Rockies.
The active weather pattern, with heat acting as the centerpiece, is slated to stick around for the next week or two. The heat, intensified by human-caused climate change, could well fuel more destructive storms.
Severe storms rage
in the Midwest
The National Weather Service received nearly 600 reports of severe weather Monday as violent thunderstorms erupted in the Midwest and charged southeastward through the Ohio Valley into southwest Virginia and western North Carolina. The storms unleashed winds as high as 98 mph, downing hundreds of trees.
Forming on the northern periphery of the heat dome and energized by south-to-north temperature contrasts, the storms drew down roaring high-altitude winds as destructive gusts.
On Monday evening, the storms began along Interstate 94 between Madison and Milwaukee, dropping egg-size hail before shifting over Lake Michigan.
The thunderstorm grew to nearly 70,000 feet tall, feeling the effects of the jet stream aloft, which contributed to its potency. Prolific lightning rates, with more than a dozen flashes per second, accompanied the developing storm cell.
Another severe storm blossomed west of Chicago, becoming a supercell or rotating thunderstorm that prompted the issuance of tornado warnings across the area. Sirens blared as funnels danced west of town, several of which may have intermittently touched down. There was radar evidence of tight circulations near Streamwood, Roselle and Maywood, Illinois, and an 84 mph wind gust was reported at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
Some damage was reported, including the entire roof of a third flood apartment removed in Maywood, in addition to a partial wall collapse on North Fremont Street in Chicago. The Weather Service was on scene Tuesday conducting damage surveys.
Farther east, storms consolidated into multiple bow echoes, or curved squall lines containing strong winds. The most severe blasted through northeast Indiana, extreme southern Michigan and the majority of Ohio. Winds gusted to 98 mph at the airport in Fort Wayne, Ind., and 75 mph in Putnam, Ohio.
The line broke apart before reaching the Mid-Atlantic, though isolated severe thunderstorms were possible Tuesday afternoon.
Additional bouts of strong to severe storms are probable in the Midwest and Ohio Valley Wednesday and Thursday – again firing along the heat dome’s northern fringe.
Blistering heat over
the central, eastern U.S.
The heat dome is currently centered near Nashville. It has established dozens of high temperature records since it first formed late last week over Texas and the Southwest. Temperatures soared as high as 123 degrees in Death Valley, Calif ornia, while Phoenix hit 114 and Las Vegas 109 over the weekend. Austin and San Antonio made it to 105.
Now widespread readings in the upper 90s to near 100 are shifting east. Stifling humidity is making these air temperatures feel 10 to 15 degrees higher.
Lincoln, Nebraska (with a high of 103 degrees), Columbia, South Carolina (103), Austin, Texas (102), St. Louis, Missouri (100), Charlotte, North Carolina (98), Nashville (97), and Louisville and Paducah, Kentucky (97), set June 13 records Monday. North Platte, Nebraska hit 108 degrees – not just a daily record, but the highest temperature ever recorded there during the month of June.
Records highs could be challenged in from Minneapolis to Charleston, South Carolina, on Tuesday. Excessive heat warnings cover much of the Midwest where suffocating humidity levels, enhanced by moisture from corn and other crops, could cause heat index values to top 110 degrees in spots.
“Widespread heat indices of 100+ degrees are dangerous for those working or playing outdoors for long periods,” the National Weather Service tweeted Tuesday.
While Chicago cleans up from Monday night’s storms, it faces “dangerous heat and humidity” Tuesday and Wednesday, the National Weather Service tweeted. The Windy City could feel as hot as 110 degrees.
The Weather Service is forecasting a 99-degree high in Minneapolis Tuesday, which would claim a record and beat out the 98 reading tabulated in 1987. Nashville, Columbia, South Carolina, and St. Louis, Missouri, are forecast to set record highs for a second straight day.
The heat will ease in Minnesota and Wisconsin on Wednesday, but will threaten records from Detroit to Atlanta.
A new insurgence of heat will return to the Plains by the weekend. The Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center continues to predict above-average temperatures over the center of the country through next week.
Unusually wet weather has flanked the heat dome in the Pacific Northwest, where the jet stream took a dip late last week. This allowed an unusually strong plume of moisture for the time of year – known as an atmospheric river – to surge inland from the Pacific Ocean. It spread exceptional June rainfall not only in Washington and Oregon but also into the Northern Rockies.
Heavy rain and melting snow have combined to produce historic flooding around Yellowstone National Park. Two to three inches of rain was reported at several gauges between Saturday and Monday.
The rain and melting snow have caused river levels to exceed century-old records in multiple cases.
A roaring river washed away the road to Yellowstone National Park’s north entrance in Gardner Canyon between Gardiner, Montana, and Mammoth Hot Springs.
“Effective immediately, there will be no inbound visitor traffic at any of the five entrances into Yellowstone National Park on Tuesday, June 14, and Wednesday, June 15, at a minimum” read the Park’s website. The Park cited “extremely hazardous conditions” including “heavy flooding (and) rockslides.”
At least one home was captured on video collapsing into a river in southern Montana as the ground on which it sat was eroded.
Meanwhile, the combination of gusty winds, low humidity and drought – intensified by recent record-breaking temperatures – has spurred dangerous fire conditions in the Southwest.
New fires have broken out in California and Arizona since the weekend, including north of Flagstaff, where the Pipeline Fire has torched 5,000 acres. The Associated Press reported that the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort was closed and hundreds of homes evacuated in response to the fire, which is the second to affect the area this year.
In New Mexico, the state’s largest wildfire on record continues to rage east of Santa Fe. The Hermits Peak and Calf Canyon fire complex, has charred a whopping 325,340 acres – twelve times the size of Disney World – and is 70% contained. Simultaneously, the Black Fire, New Mexico’s second largest on record, also rages.
President Joe Biden visited New Mexico on Saturday to meet with state and local officials and address ongoing wildfire fighting efforts.
Red flag warnings are in effect for much of northern New Mexico and southwest Colorado Tuesday for high fire danger.
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