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Roanoke’s hot July could top 1966 record heat wave

July 2020 has seen more 90 degree days in a row in Roanoke than any month in recorded history.
July 2020 has seen more 90 degree days in a row in Roanoke than any month in recorded history.(WDBJ7 Weather)
Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 9:39 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 20, 2020 at 11:09 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - There’s no denying July 2020 has been an unusually hot month. Even in our typically cooler mountain towns, thermometer readings have towered well above their normal values. At the Roanoke-Blacksburg Airport, where Roanoke’s official climate data is recorded, the daytime high has been at or above 90° every day in July. Not only is this unusual, but also historic.

The record for longest, consecutive stretch of 90°+ highs is 22 days set back in 1966. What makes our current heat wave different is the 90s started on July 1st, making it the first time in recorded history that July has had so many 90°+ highs in a row. Records for Roanoke go back to 1912.

During the 1966 hot stretch, the 90s were spread across two months, starting at the end of June, and lasting through the middle of July.

COULD THE WHOLE MONTH BE IN THE 90s?

While it would be unheard of in the history books, there’s a small chance Roanoke could have a high of 90°+ every single day in July.

Forecast highs through the end of the month range from 90° to around 95°. We would be naive not to mention the fact that even a small afternoon shower/storm could cool things down enough to keep us from hitting the lofty goal.

A LOOK BACK: 1966 HEAT WAVE

We keep comparing our current hot stretch to the 1966 heat wave. In comparison, the 1966 stretch doesn’t even rank as one of the hottest summers on record for our area. Instead, it was a period of unseasonably hot conditions that lasted 22 days and finished up with a 100° high in Roanoke.

The late-June to mid-July heat wave in 1966 would become a record-breaker across much of the southeast all the way to the northeast. New York City tied its all-time June record high of 101°.

While we have certainly seen hotter stretches, including the 2012 summer with multiple 100°+ days, this summer certainly stands out as being one of the hotter July’s on record.

COULD THIS MEAN A WILD WINTER?

As we’ve hinted at many times before when it comes to weather, history can repeat itself, until it doesn’t. There’s no guidance at this time that suggests our hot summer stretch will lead to a cold, snowy winter. However, we should point out that one of the Top 10 snowiest seasons in Roanoke occurred during the winter of 1966-67 following the longest hot stretch of 90s that summer. That winter, 41.7″ of snow was recorded in Roanoke, far above the normal at that time of 16 inches.

One of the snowiest winters took place after the 1966 heat wave. Will history repeat itself?
One of the snowiest winters took place after the 1966 heat wave. Will history repeat itself?(WDBJ7)

IS THIS A RESULT OF CLIMATE CHANGE?

We get asked a lot about whether these extreme weather events are a result of climate change. While individual heat waves are more of a weather phenomenon, the frequency and intensity can indeed be a result of a warming climate. Just looking at this year’s number of 90° days in a row doesn’t tell the whole story.

To truly see Roanoke’s warming trend in recent decades you need to look at the highest average temperatures. Of the Top 10 warmest years, 8 out of 10 of them have taken place in the past 30 years, since 1990.

RANKYEARLY AVERAGE TEMPERATURESYEAR
159.5°2012
259.5°2019
359.4°2007
459.1°1990
559.1°2017
658.9°2011
758.9°2016
858.8°1998
958.7°1953
1058.6°1991

If things continue the way they have been, we are on pace for another year of warmer than average temperatures.

Globally, there are even stronger signs of a record-setting warm year. The scientists at Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists, have crunched the numbers and found:

  • This year is ‘virtually certain’ to finish among the top five, which would make the seven latest years the seven hottest in 140 years of records.
  • 2020 also has a 36% chance to eclipse 2016 as the hottest on record, even without an El Niño—the pattern that propelled 2016 to its record heat.
The numbers are in for the first half of 2020’s global temperatures—and they are nearly the hottest on record once again.
The numbers are in for the first half of 2020’s global temperatures—and they are nearly the hottest on record once again.(Climate Central)

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