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How climate change ‘loads the dice’ for heat waves

How climate change 'loads the dice' for heat waves

This week's sizzling temperatures may herald a climate reality that scientists thought was still decades in the future.

Larry O'Neill knew a heat wave was coming, but he still couldn't believe what the climate models were telling him.

The projected temperatures for this week were so unusually high — between 115 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit across parts of the Pacific Northwest — that O'Neill, Oregon's state climatologist, felt something must be off.

"The predictions seemed completely outlandish," said O'Neill, an associate professor at Oregon State University. "They were so crazy insane that professional forecasters and people like myself thought something must be wrong with the models."

As it turned out, the forecasts were right.

With global warming making heat waves and other extreme weather events both more likely and more severe, this week's sizzling temperatures may herald a climate reality that scientists thought was still decades in the future.

"We see evidence of climate change in the data already, but in the Pacific Northwest, we thought maybe by the middle of the century is when we would start to see really substantial and impactful events," O'Neill said. "But we're seeing those now."

Across the western United States, more than 35 cities tied or set temperature records Monday, with several places shattering their all-time highs. Seattle posted a new record of 108 degrees, 5 degrees hotter than the city's previous all-time record, and Portland, Oregon, reached a scorching 116 degrees, surpassing the city's previous milestone by 8 degrees.

The intensity of the heat, particularly in a region of the country known for its mild conditions, has been shocking, said Nicholas Bond, a research scientist at the University of Washington and Washington's state climatologist.

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