Heat domes normally persist for several days in any one location, but they can last longer. They can also move, influencing neighboring areas over a week or two. The heat dome involved in the June 2023 heat wave in Texas and Mexico was forecast to expand deeper into the Southwest and South Central U.S.
On rare occasions, the heat dome can be more persistent. That happened in the southern Plains in 1980, when as many as 10,000 people died during weeks of high summer heat. It also happened over much of the United States during the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s.
A heat dome can have serious impacts on people because the stagnant weather pattern that allows it to exist usually results in weak winds and an increase in humidity. Both factors make the heat feel worse — and become more dangerous — because the human body is not cooled as much by sweating.
The heat index, a combination of heat and humidity, is often used to convey this danger by indicating what the temperature will feel like to most people. The high humidity also reduces the amount of cooling at night. Warm nights can leave people without air conditioners unable to cool off, which increases the risk of heat illnesses and deaths. With global warming, temperatures are already higher, too.
One of the worst recent examples of the impacts from a heat dome with high temperatures and humidity in the U.S. occurred in the summer of 1995, when an estimated 739 people died in the Chicago area over five days.
William Gallus is a professor of atmospheric science at Iowa State University where he researches small-scale atmospheric phenomena, especially thunderstorms and their rainfall.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. You can find the original article here.