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5 reasons why this heat wave is different from earlier ones in Northern California

It gets hot in Northern California during the summer, but this heat wave has a few things that sets it apart.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A dangerous weather pattern will bring well above average highs to the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, surrounding foothills, and parts of the Bay Area starting Thursday, July 8.

All heat waves have different characteristics that make them unique with special risks that deserve recognition and discussion. Here are five ways this heat wave is different than the previous we've experienced so far this season.

  1. This heat wave will last a lot longer. A heat wave is typically caused by a kink in the jet stream that allows a ridge of high pressure to sit over an area and the air sinks and the temperatures rise. Due to the constant changes in the weather day-to-day, a stuck pattern can be unusual. During the summer, a ridge over the top of California often only lasts a few days and then it will migrate east or west. This heat will bake California with 100-degree heat for roughly up to six days in a row. This has happened in the past, but it hasn't happened this year and may surprise people.
  2. For three or four days, the temperatures should be very close to records and on Saturday, the hottest day, Valley temperatures will approach 110-115 degrees. This kind of heat only happens a few times per year. This heat in the afternoon can be deadly for humans and animals and often impacts the most at-risk populations like children, pets, seniors, and lower-income households that may not have means to avoid heat-related illnesses associated with poor or no air conditioning.
  3. Temperatures will be very warm at night. The constant heat will make air conditioning units work harder for longer period of times and may take some to the breaking point. There is little relief from allowing outside air to move in by opening a window or using a whole house fan. Temperatures are very slow to comedown in homes, apartments, or buildings since there is little airflow and only warm temperatures in the morning. Many locations will only cool to the 70s and 80s as the sun rises, keeping comfortable temperatures in a very narrow time period in the early morning.
  4. Even though there is not a widespread Red Flag Warning, we have seen a number of fires break out so far this season, and heat with more human activity always increases the odds of new fires starting. The fact that the peak heat will occur over a weekend with few or any travel restrictions will simply put more people in more places doing more things that can start a fire. Often a larger fire will start during a heat wave in July and will become established for weeks. 
  5. Since this goes on for days, air quality will degrade for a large area. Human activity, and burning fossil fuels creates carbon and ozone pollution the main component of smog. Each day the air becomes a little worse and we have a chance to see some poor air quality and ozone pollution over the weekend and by Monday. 

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