Puerto Rico So Hot This Week, Surprising Some Meteorologists – Inside Climate News

By | June 6, 2023

Puerto Ricans are no strangers to heat.

Even on the coldest winter days, the Caribbean island and largest U.S. territory rarely sees daytime temperatures below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. But Puerto Rico is so hot this week that it’s baffling some weather experts, who warn other parts of the world are likely to experience similar extreme heat this year as climate change and an exceptionally strong El Nio push global temperatures to all-time highs.

In a series of tweets on MondayFlorida-based meteorologist Jeff Berardelli has warned of life-threatening heat in Puerto Rico, with conditions on the island getting so hot some meteorologists are stunned.

The heat index, which combines temperature with humidity, rose above 100 degrees Fahrenheit across much of the territory on Monday, with parts of Puerto Rico hitting a heat index of up to 125 degrees. High humidity combined with high temperatures can be especially dangerous as less sweat can evaporate from the body to cool it down. The heat is expected to persist through at least Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, which issued an island-wide excessive heat warning urging Puerto Ricans to take extra precautions to stay cool while outside.

Berardelli linked Puerto Rico’s extreme heat this week to several overlapping factors, including the formation of a fierce heat dome just east of the island, a strong El Nio weather pattern that amplifies heat waves and other climate changes, and weather extremes that generally make the oceans warmer. Tropical oceans, he said, have warmed by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since the Industrial Revolution.

The high temperatures could also be affected by what Berardelli called an undulating jet stream, when the fast-flowing stream of air moving around the planet’s upper hemisphere is disrupted and wobbles like a top spinning off kilter. It’s the same mechanism that caused the polar vortex to break down in the southern states of the United States in recent winters, and scientists believe that climate change is playing a role in this disruption.

There’s a lot of work to be done to understand the link between climate change and the wave jet stream, Berardelli said, adding that sea ice loss and erratic warming at the poles is likely a factor in that dynamic.

Ultimately, Berardelli said, Puerto Rico’s heat wave shouldn’t be seen as an isolated incident and warned that other parts of the world should anticipate similar heat spells in the coming months. As we move into 2023 and El Nio intensifies, we should expect a remarkable year of mind-bending global extremes, he said. The underlying climate has warmed due to greenhouse warming and a strong El Nio will push us to limits we have yet to meet.

It’s a sad prediction that many other scientists have made for this year as well.

Last month, the United Nations meteorological agency warned in a major report that the combined forces of climate change and El Nio are likely to drive temperatures to record highs in many parts of the world over the next five years. And a peer-reviewed study, also released last month, warned that a fifth of the world could be living in dangerously hot conditions by the end of the century.

For Puerto Rico, rising heat is exacerbating other climate-related threats. Studies have shown that the Caribbean islands are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Rising temperatures are raising the dangers of heavy rains and powerful storms in the region, where many governments are struggling to recover from disasters due to a lack of resources. The situation is only made worse by the high energy costs associated with imported fossil fuels and the crippling debt that has become all too common for Caribbean island nations and colonial territories.

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In fact, much of Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which crippled the island’s power grid in 2017 and sparked an ongoing fight over the future of the island’s energy infrastructure. Even as billions of dollars in federal aid pour into the United States to help rebuild its infrastructure, hundreds of thousands of residents continue to face regular power outages each year. Such blackouts can be dangerous during a heat wave, preventing people from keeping cool with air conditioning or making it difficult to store perishable medicines such as insulin, which must be refrigerated.

By Monday night, Puerto Ricans were already complaining online about the heat, with some saying they’ve never experienced a heat wave this bad before.

My town is surrounded by mountains and lots of greenery, posted a Twitter user, who said he lives in the rural town of Villalba. It is usually colder than most cities in Puerto Rico, but let me tell you it was EXTREMELY HOT. It went over 100 degrees. It’s crazy.

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