Extreme heat events are hard to forecast. But new research could provide more advance warning, making it easier to plan for high temperatures.

Sun and beach

MCKINNON: “Even though we often don’t think of hot weather as something dangerous, it actually kills more people than any other type of weather event.”

That’s Karen McKinnon of the National Center for Atmospheric Research. She and her team analyzed 30 years of temperature data and discovered a pattern.

When unusually warm water collides with especially cool water in the Pacific Ocean, the odds triple that a dangerous heat event will strike the eastern U.S. about 50 days later. There are immediate applications for these findings.

Karen McKinnon
Karen McKinnon

MCKINNON: “If city managers know that there might be an increased probability of having a hot weather event, then they could be prepared in terms of educating the public about the dangers of hot weather, and also providing resources like cooling rooms that people without air conditioning can go to to keep their body temperature low.”

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And with seven weeks to prepare, farmers could take action to protect crops and build shelters to shade livestock from the Sun. McKinnon is now sharing her predictions, and hopes these new heat wave forecasts will ultimately save lives.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Beach photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Long-lead predictions of eastern United States hot days from Pacific sea surface temperatures
Ocean temps predict U.S. heat waves 50 days out, study finds

Daisy Simmons is a freelance writer and editor with more than 15 years of experience in research-driven storytelling. In addition to contributing to Yale Climate Connections since early 2016, she also...