A “ring of fire” weather system is causing chaos across the U.S. Climate change could bring more.
We’re bringing you exclusive content from our newsletter, The Forecast, right here on Medium. Sign up here. This feature, called the Weather Corner, takes a deep dive into weird weather around the world, from our June 15 newsletter.
As the summer begins, extreme weather fueled by climate change has slammed the U.S., from heat so scorching you can cook burgers on a car dashboard in Arizona to flash floods that washed away houses in Yellowstone National Park this month. These drastic yet events are all caused by the same specific weather pattern sometimes called a “ring of fire” by meteorologists.
The “ring of fire” works when a strong upper-level high-pressure system — which means sinking air — has sweltering hot temperatures in the middle. But disturbances around this ring around the high-pressure system tap into the moisture bubble, leading to storms around the periphery.
“Rings of fire” show up on satellites like bubbles with thousands of miles of empty space and then stormclouds around the rim.
So this hot, humid high-pressure system is stopped over the Tennessee Valley, heating up and drying out Southern states — and creating parched conditions for wildfires. But along the northern rim of the system, moisture has pushed its way in and created thunderstorms over the Northern Rockies and the Midwest.
These aren’t uncommon weather patterns — they happen once or twice a year — but this one occurred early in the year, before summer even starts, and had such intense temperatures. This one is likely fueled by climate change, which raises temperatures globally, with disparate impacts.
Climate change leads to more frequent and more severe extreme weather events around the world—hotter heat waves, drier droughts, more fiery wildfires, rougher storm surges and changes in precipitation patterns.
Some studies have even shown that several heat waves are taking place now that would not have otherwise occurred in the absence of human-caused global warming (thanks to science that we already wrote about called attribution science, which compares real-world weather events under current climate conditions with those that would occur on a hypothetical “Planet B” that has a climate untouched by greenhouse gas emissions). Plus, hotter air can hold more water vapor, so storms can be more destructive in a warming world.
So as of last week, more than 100 million people — over one-third of the U.S. population — face extreme heat. New Mexico in the Southwest is experiencing one of its worst wildfire seasons on record. Meanwhile, the Midwest is experiencing destructive derechos, a powerful cluster of thunderstorms that are downing trees and knocking out power to more than a half-million Americans.
In order to solve climate change and prevent extreme weather from becoming more extreme, we must both mitigate emissions in the future and implement climate adaptation measures for ongoing climate change impacts.
Adaptation measures include:
- Elevating coastal sea walls, infrastructure or retreating from locations at sea level.
- Reducing water use and using water recycling systems or building greywater systems.
- Distributing drought-tolerant seeds for crops like rice, cowpea and maize.
Meanwhile, mitigation measures include:
- Switching to clean energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal instead of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas
- Retrofitting old commercial and residential buildings and transportation systems to become more energy efficient
- Investing in carbon sequestration systems, from nature-based solutions like planting trees and reversing deforestation to carbon capture technology