Are the dire predictions about global warming finally coming true? It's a good question after the 15-day heat wave that struck parts of the U.S. from New Jersey to Oklahoma and the drought that lingers in some areas. Meteorologist Ants Leetmaa joined CBS News This Morning from the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Maryland to offer an explanation.
The weather has been blamed for at least 65 deaths since July 19, most in Missouri and Illinois, with 24 and 19 deaths respectively. In Nebraska, more than 3,000 cattle have died since July 18.
In New Jersey, Gov. Christie Todd Whitman has ordered a drought emergency. Residents are asked to conserve water because reservoirs are at record lows. There has been little to no rainfall in the Garden State over the last few weeks, and the high temperatures are not helping matters.
Utility companies across the country brace for the heavy demands of cranked up air conditioners. In Omaha, the record for peak usage was broken three times in eight days.
Is there a good explanation for the heat wave and the drought conditions that have accompanied it in some areas? Are they the effects of global warming?
The simple answer is "no," says meteorologist Ants Leetmaa. "It's the same weather pattern we've been locked into since last winter," Leetmaa says. "La Nina is something we're exploring, which is basically a circular pattern of weather."
The ozone layer isn't a factor, at least in this problem, he says. "The ozone layer is so far up in the atmosphere that the only results we feel or see from it are UV rays that can cause cancer. We're not really feeling the effects of more heat from it," Leetmaa explains.
Our climate varies from year to year, and weather generally moves in patterns that last from five to ten years, says Leetmaa. Last year, we had a relatively cool summer. But, he says, temperatures in the 90s are not unusual. Cities like Houston and Tucson frequently experience 90-degree days, but places like Chicago and New York can get them, too.
The good news, according to Leetmaa, is that the pattern we saw in July is starting to break down in August. Forecasts are saying we'll snap out of the hot stretch by next week, although this weekend is expected to be a scorcher for most of the U.S. He predicts that the eastern one third of the country will see relief by the middle of next week, and the upper Midwest before then.