How to Boil a Continent

Published on: 17:48PM Jun 20, 2016

What does it take to boil an egg? Submerge it in hot water. What does it take to boil a continent? We are finding out.

North America is surrounded by hot water and summer breezes are wafting that hot humid air inland. This last weekend, almost everyone got to “Feel the Burn. 

The oceans are hot – and that hot air is going to flow inland over the next couple of months.

The major El Niño that heated 10% of the globe just ended. Not surprisingly, is caused the hottest May since records began in the 1970s. Now the air masses from the tropics will dominate summer and they are Hot, Hot, Hot! As a result, most to the US and large parts of Canada are steaming.

Even though the hot El Niño has officially ended, that hot water has not disappeared. The hot Tropical Pacific water crashes into South America and then flows north and south along the west coast of the Americas. The prevailing westerly winds carry that hot marine air inland, creating some nasty heat in the Western, particularly the Southwestern states, including West Texas.

The hot water from last winter’s El Niño is moving up the West Coast. © James and Evelyn Garriss

The good news is that the springtime El Niño left most of the US with normal to above-normal supplies of subsurface and reservoir water. It lasted long enough to bring usual flooding rains to Texas and parts of the Midwest. Unfortunately, now that El Niño is gone and the current heat is drying the surface water. When weather gets hot enough, it can create “flash droughts” so that even areas with near normal rainfall have so much evaporation that the ground dries up. The US Drought Monitor is reporting a 10% increase in dryness over the last month. 

While a wet spring gave the US a good long-term supply of water, the hot summer is creating drier surface soil and short-term drought.

As La Niña develops, the cooler tropical air holds less moisture. Typically, the Gulf and Southeast Coast get heavier rainfall and less moisture travels inland to the Great Plains and Midwest. This creates particular difficulties for rangelands and late planted crop that don’t have access to irrigation or water supplies. For those that have conserved their water supplies, the warmth ripens crops early and makes harvests easy. Historically, this is the type of year that intelligent water management makes the difference between a solid profit or a potential loss.