South Florida is dealing with a record-breaking heat wave. It’s only April, but temperatures have been rivaling those more typical of summer.
On Monday, Miami reached a high of 97 degrees Fahrenheit—an all-time high April reading for the region. The city had never before reached that level of heat prior to May 28.
“If we take the average temperature during the first three weeks of April, it would be the second-hottest May on record, and just shy of the average temperature in June and September,” Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School, told Earther. “Any way you slice it, these temperatures are very, very far from normal.”
On Wednesday, Miami saw a reprieve from the relentless heat, with highs projected not to exceed 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider it an Earth Day treat, but it won’t last long with temperatures set to pass the 90 degree Fahrenheit threshold again on Friday.
A stubborn cover of high atmospheric pressure has exacerbated the heat wave. It’s also pushed any potential rain northward, leaving other parts of the Gulf Coast facing abnormally dry conditions, according to the Capital Weather Gang. New Orleans and Houston experienced their fourth and fifth driest March ever.
“Averaged over the entire year so far, there has been an anomalous ridge in place over the southeast US and Gulf of Mexico,” said McNoldy, referring to the ridge of high pressure. “That has led to an overall decrease in cloudiness, a decrease in average wind speed, and much warmer ocean temperatures in the region. These all combine to allow for warmer lows and warmer highs.”
Water temperatures in the Gulf are currently nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit above average, and last month, the Atlantic Ocean experienced record-breaking heat. Higher ocean temperatures reduce the temperature gradient between land and the sea, and that can cut off cooling onshore breezes that normally help provide a modicum of relief for South Florida.
Heat waves like this are expected to get worse as the planet warms, particularly for already-hot Florida. The state is expected to experience 130 days of dangerous heat annually by 2050, which is more than any other state. For the Miami area, a Union of Concerned Scientists report show that the region could see 134 days hit a heat index of 100 degrees Fahrenheit and above by 2050.
“We could immediately stop all carbon emissions and this would not end anytime soon,” McNoldy said. “The changes we already made to the atmosphere and ocean are going to influence the climate for decades or even centuries to come. The goal now is to mitigate the damage and try to reduce the acceleration of warming.”
To prepare for all this, officials must see to it that Floridians—especially vulnerable residents, such as farmworkers who work in open fields—have better access to shade, rest, and water. They should also provide relief to residents struggling with high air conditioning bills in the face of worsening heat waves. Add in sea level rise and host of other climate change-fueled impacts and it’s clear there’s still more work to do to protect Floridians.
Current temperatures show that Florida can’t wait to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The climate crisis is happening right now.