Heat Waves


A heat wave can bring killing heat to many areas. People in lower income areas are especially vulnerable.

Last week a trip to Salt Lake City found us battling 101-degree weather as we held a family reunion. My brother told me that the weather report was for the next two days to be even hotter and then it would cool back down to around 100 degrees and stay there for a while. My step-mother, up from Yuma, Arizona, scoffed at this heat. Yuma has had 115–120-degree days (and 95-degree nights) for weeks.

Much of the world has been in the same boat. June was reported to be the hottest June on record (since 1850) and by the third week of July, it was clear that July was going to set a new record for the hottest month ever recorded. The World Metrological Organization has confirmed that the past eight years were the warmest on record globally.

And it just isn’t the air that is heating up. Oceans around the world are reporting water temperatures well above normal. By mid-June, the Atlantic Ocean was 73 degrees as opposed to a normal 71 degrees, a difference that might seem trivial except that it represents a colossal amount of heat energy stored in that body of water.

A lot of the heat we are experiencing comes from a changing climate. However, there are still periods where the heat is more oppressive than the new normal. What causes these lengthy periods of high heat, called heat waves, and how are they measured? It is easier to tackle the definition first. A heat wave is defined based on local weather patterns. Weather is considered a heat wave when sustained temperatures rise into the 90-95th percentile of the average for that area. Thus, Dallas, Texas will have a different threshold than Idaho Falls.

How heat waves form is a little harder to explain. It isn’t all that complicated or technical perse, but can be very complex with lots of factors at play. Basically, it starts with a high-pressure system. According to NOAA, “High-pressure systems have more air pressure than their surroundings. That means they are constantly pushing air away from them into the areas that have lower pressure. They are often times associated with clear blue skies.” They are called anticyclones because they push air away instead of gather it in like a low-pressure system does.

As a high-pressure system pushes air down and out, heat already in the landscape is trapped, much like putting a lid on a boiling pot and is called a heat dome. Clouds disappear and the sun’s full influence is felt.

Sand, soil, concrete, asphalt, buildings, water and more continue to heat up but the heat has nowhere to go. This is such an issue that in cities it is given the name, The Urban Island Effect. Large cities such as Los Angeles absorb more heat because of all the concrete and asphalt roads, parking lots and buildings, becoming as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than surrounding areas.

Moisture can mitigate the effects of a heat dome to some degree, so dry areas tend to suffer more in a heat wave. However, moisture can also become a liability. For each degree Celsius (1.8 degrees F) the air warms, it can hold seven percent more water, creating the double deadly whammy of heat and humidity.

Heat waves typically last for around five days, but under the right conditions a heat wave can get “stuck” and hang around much longer. Eventually, the high-pressure will weaken and cooler air and even rain will work its way back in, but another high-pressure system can form and initiate the cycle again. And again.

For vast parts of North America, Asia, Africa and Europe, it has been a wickedly hot summer. On July 6, the daily average global mean surface air temperature surpassed the record set in August 2016, making it the hottest day on record.

With global climate change in progress, we are likely to see more, not fewer, extremes in temperature and more heat waves. This is a big deal. Climate scientists state that the threat to human health from heat waves and rising temperatures exceeds that of hurricanes and tornadoes. It would behoove us to consider how we will personally and as a community combat rising temperatures and hotter more persistent heat waves.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho