Wednesday, August 9th 2023

If You Think This Heat Wave Was Bad, Wait until Next Year

Written by

Rafael Bracho

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If You Think This Heat Wave Was Bad, Wait until Next Year

If you’ve been living in Mexico, you’ve surely experienced this last heat wave. I live in one of the states that was supposed to have escaped the brutal heat—it was still hot. REALLY hot. Like sitting-in-front-of-the-fan-without-a-shirt-on-at-9am hot. Well, I have some bad news, folks. It’s not over. In fact, it’s just beginning. It’s official: It’s an El Niño year. And there’s more heat in store for July.

It all has to do with a combination of two weather patterns. The first is El Niño, and the second is called the Madden-Julian Oscillation. Don’t worry, we’ll explain it all by the end of this article, give you the statistics from the last heat wave, and we’ll throw in some tips the locals use on how to stay cool during the heat.

There have been hundreds of cases of heatstroke that have sent people to the hospital—and even some fatalities—this last heatwave. It’s important to stay informed. But the best thing you can do is make sure you’re protected with affordable health insurance.


What Is El Niño?

If You Think This Heat Wave Is Bad, Wait until Next Year

  • History of El Niño

El Niño has operated for thousands of years, with scientific evidence of El Niño dating back 13,000 years. The first written record of El Niño was made by Pizarro in 1525. Modern research has documented 26 El Niños since 1900.

Hundreds of years ago, the fishermen in the port of Paita—on the northern coast of Peru—noticed a warm water current that traveled up the coast toward the equator around Christmas. Meaning “The Boy” in Spanish, they named this current after the infant Jesus. In 1888, Australian astronomer, Charles Todd, noted that the droughts in India and Australia tended to coincide with these swells in Peru.

  • El Niño Today

Since then, we’ve discovered that El Niño is a global phenomenon, which affects weather conditions everywhere. It’s a natural cycle of hot and cold weather called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It arises from temperature fluctuations in the central and east-central areas of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. High pressure in the western Pacific and low pressure in the eastern Pacific.

There’s El Niño, which is the hot cycle, and then there’s La Niña, which is the cool cycle.

  • El Niño lasts between 2 – 7 years (usually 4 years)
  • La Niña typically lasts 1 – 2 years

Here’s the worst part: above, I wrote La Niña typically lasts 1 to 2 years, but there have been three instances where La Niña has lasted three years. Once 1973 – 1976, another 1998 – 2001 (this was following the worst El Niño season on record), and a third time: 2020 – 2023. <u>That’s right, just last year</u>.

The Kuhnian in me feels obliged to note that there isn’t one definition of El Niño. Each country has its own classification system for what constitutes an El Niño event. Where Australia measures trade winds and the US measures sea temperatures, Japan measures the deviation in sea temperature, and in Peru, the temperature deviation has to last at least 3 months.

  • Effects of El Niño

During El Niño, rainfall arrives later than usual, generally between September and November. You can expect less rain in Indonesia, India, and northern Australia. Cyclone formation and intensity increase across the Pacific. Trade winds that blow east to west along the equator weaken, and they can even run in the opposite direction! It’s setting new heat records, causing loads of rainfall in South America, and drought in Africa. Asia will experience periodic heat waves, which will push global temperatures into uncharted territory.

  • The Rising Cost of El Niño

From what we know so far, El Niño conditions are present and will continue to strengthen into the Northern Hemisphere’s winter 2023 – 2024—and this year’s El Niño is a big one. The El Niño of 97 – 98 was the most powerful in history, causing $5.7T USD worth of damage and 23,000 deaths. El Niño is predicted to lead to $84T USD in economic losses by the end of the century. Sadly, human-caused climate change is making El Niño worse. And we need to invest in infrastructure that can handle the rising intensity of El Niños.

  • Why Is El Niño Such A Big Deal?

The Pacific Ocean is the largest, covering 1/3 of the planet. A small change in temperature in this massive body of water can alter the weather patterns around the whole planet. The Pacific Ocean is 13,000 ft deep on average, and 36,000 ft (nearly 7 miles) at its lowest point. Water moves in all directions, including up and down, and these currents are driven by salt gradients and wind.

The main point to take with you is that the Pacific Ocean absorbs the heat from burning fossil fuels like a thermal battery, and the Pacific Ocean is warming up particularly fast. As physics tells us, energy is never lost, it only changes, so that energy stored in the Pacific Ocean is eventually going to be released in the form of terrible hurricanes and cyclones.

Ultimately, however, the predictions are in flux, it is impossible to accurately predict how the extra heat will affect weather patterns, likely with more severe conditions, including: drought, hurricanes, and flooding around the world.


What Is the Madden-Julian Oscillation?

If You Think This Heat Wave Is Bad, Wait until Next Year

The other factor is the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO). Named after scientists Roland Madden and Paul Julian, it was discovered in 1971. It’s the largest element of intraseasonal variability (30 – 90 days) in the tropical atmosphere. And unlike El Niño, it’s not a standing pattern. It’s a traveling weather pattern that runs eastward along the warmest parts of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

The Madden-Julian Oscillation is characterized by causing anomalous rainfall. It can help cool us down normally when we’re in an El Niño year. However, scientists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) have predicted how El Niño and the Madden-Julian Oscillation will combine, and the outlook doesn’t look good. . . In July, temperatures are predicted to increase again according to the UNAM. There will be more heat waves due to meteorological events like when the MJO and ENSO combine.

The Institute of Atmosphere Sciences and Climate Change (ICAyLCC) also measured the events and predicts that the amount of rain will decrease. In short, we won’t have enough rain to keep us cool, and July will have another heat wave.

Worse yet, it’s looking like heat waves will get more intense in the following years (including this summer). And heat waves will get more frequent. These climatologists from the ICAyLCC had this to say:

What leads to these heat waves is the presence of the non-connective phase of the Madden-Julian oscillation. It is associated with the fact that this oscillation is going to put a lot of pressure on the atmosphere and the development of clouds and precipitation is prevented. - Victor Manuel Torres

From the first of July there may be another heat wave. But it is a bit risky to say and a similar wave of this magnitude would be expected. The long-term trend is for us to have a fairly strong increase in the center of the country, including Mexico City. - Benjamin Martines


This Past Heat Wave Was Bad Enough

If You Think This Heat Wave Is Bad, Wait until Next Year

To be honest, this last heat wave was bad enough. The following states recorded heat waves:

  • Sonora
  • Nayarit
  • Jalisco
  • Colima
  • Michoacan
  • Guerrero
  • Morelos
  • Oaxaca
  • Chiapas
  • Chihuahua
  • Durango
  • Zacatecas
  • San Luis Potosi
  • Hidalgo
  • Veracruz
  • Tabasco
  • Campeche
  • Yucatan

Mexico and the Caribbean experienced the most intense heat wave in recorded history. The Mexican high-altitude plateau of El Bajio and the North of Mexico are recording scorching temperatures. The average temperature in all of Mexico was 45C—even in some high altitude areas. Some places of note:

  • Torreon 43.3
  • Durango 40.4
  • La Bufa 33.4 (at 8,500ft, this temperature broke all-time records)
  • Monclova in Campeche 44.6C (not factoring humidity)

The Caribbean is just as bad, and also has to contend with saturated levels of humidity. Perhaps worst off are the American states of Louisiana and Texas:

  • Dominican Republic 37-38,
  • Honduras 37.5,
  • Guatemala 41.6,
  • Louisiana 43.3,
  • Texas 46.1

In this last heat wave, which was the 3rd of the season, there were six fatalities and 418 instances of heat stroke, dehydration, and burns. 26 of Mexico’s 32 states were affected According to the General Directorate of Epidemiology (DGE) release on June 14th, the heat wave disproportionately affected individuals 25-44, who are 66.79% of victims.


What Will the Next Heat Wave Look Like?

If You Think This Heat Wave Is Bad, Wait until Next Year

The coolest states (which are still blazing hot) seem to be parts of:

  • Zacatecas
  • Aguascalientes
  • Guanajuato
  • Queretaro
  • State of Mexico
  • Puebla
  • Morelos
  • Tlaxcala
  • Mexico City (Tlaxcala and Mexico City between 30 - 35)

The Mexican states that do get rain can expect destructive forces with heavy hail and power outages. Thunderstorms are forecast in Campeche, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan. Heavy rainfall could increase river and stream levels, which will cause flooding and landslides.

The National Meteorological Service (SMN) issued a warning, urging citizens to stay up to date with the weather. Be sure to stay hydrated and avoid prolonged sun exposure. For example, a 78-year-old woman in Hermosillo, Sonora passed away while walking outdoors.


How to Keep Cool during the Next Heat Wave

If You Think This Heat Wave Is Bad, Wait until Next Year

How do you keep cool during the blazing months in Mexico? You can do what the locals do. Electricity isn’t cheap in Mexico, and, thus, AC isn’t cost effective. How do the locals stay cool? Here are some helpful tips from locals living in rural Mexico:

  • Buy a bag of ice and drink limonada, jamaica, or just water
  • Eat paletas and bolis—especially water-based ones
  • Get a ductless Mini-split AC
  • Definitely get plenty of fans. Install ceiling fans if you don’t already have them.
  • Close your windows during the day and open them at night,
  • Houses with colonial construction, east/west facing doors, tinted windows, brick and concrete are great for the summer heat
  • Laminas (corrugated steel roofing) reflects heat and light. It cools fast which is great for patio roofing
  • Take a cold shower during the heat of the day
  • Put your sheets in a plastic bag, and then put them in the refrigerator
  • Strip down as much as possible
  • Dress in cotton, silk, and linen are all good for heat.
  • If you’re going to be outside, wear long sleeves to protect your skin from sunburn
  • A wide brim hat, like a sombrero, is crucial to shade your eyes and head
  • Sleep in a hammock or on a straw mat on the floor
  • Eat cold food and eat light. Cook outside
  • Avoid meat (uses 30% more energy to digest)
  • Eat foods that are high in water content, like: watermelon, mango, cucumber, jicama
  • Go to a local air conditioned establishment
  • Take a dip in a local body of water
  • Structure activities for early morning and dusk–then take a siesta during the middle of the day


If You Think This Heat Wave Is Bad, Wait until Next Year

It’s going to be a rough summer in Mexico, but together we can pull through this. Try and help those in your community, especially the infirmed and the elderly. Be sure to check on your neighbors if possible. And always remember, stay hydrated.

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