The Associated Press did a study and found that by the numbers, a record for heat was twice as likely to be broken as a record for cold temperatures in the U.S. between 1920 and 2018. They examined the data from 424 weather stations throughout the U.S. mainland for which they could examine temperature records. They tallied the number of times that daily high-temperature records were tied or broken versus the number of low-temperature records were broken. If climate change were not happening, odds are that the high and low-temperature records would be broken roughly the same number of times over the nearly 100 years. In particular, the AP found that:
- “Since 1999, the ratio has been two warm records set or broken for every cold one. In 16 of the last 20 years, there have been more daily high-temperature records than low.” All regions of the country have been impacted this way, with the Southwest having the
- The place that went the longest between low-temperature records being broken was the city of Pasadena, California where 7,203 days (more than 19 years) went by between Feb. 23, 2018, and the prior record low-temperature record which was set on June 5, 1999.
- Pasadena also had the greatest variance — the city set 145 high-temperature records In between the two cold record days, including an all-time high of 113 degrees last year set in 2018.
- Wooster, Ohio was more typical than Pasadena — between 1999 and 2018, Wooster set 106 high-temperature records and only 51 low-temperature records. Interestingly, in the previous eighty years, the ratio of records broken was roughly one to one, hot and cold records, with a slight lead for low-temperature records broken.
- And it does not seem to matter what the season — all four have had more high-temperature records broken than low-temperature records for the same time period.
And the high to low temperature record breakers ratio is getting worse — it was 1.4 high-temperature record for every low-temperature record during the 1930’s even with the historic Dust Bowl heat and drought, and but by this century the ration is now 1.9-to-1 high-temperature records to low-temperature records. “As a measure of climate change, the dailies (temperature records) will tell you more about what’s happening,” climate scientist Chris Field of Stanford told the AP. “The impacts of climate change almost always come packaged in extremes,” he said.
Why This Matters: While climate change is about average temperatures rising over a long period of time, climate scientists have found that the public pays more attention when records are broken. There is a reason for this — it is excessive heat that sends people to the hospital with heat stroke and related illnesses. Recently, a study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that “Government-issued heat warnings might be coming too late during warm-weather events in the North, and that might lead to hospitalizations that could have been prevented.” The study, conducted by government researchers at the CDC and other federal agencies, stated that hospitals begin to see the uptick in heat-related problems long before warnings go out in the generally cooler states, and the issues occur in lower temperatures than the heat waves typical in the South. So clearly we have a problem and need to adjust our warnings because record-breaking heat is only increasing.