Smoke billows from a wildfire near Yellowknife, Canada on July 15, 2014.
It's not often that Kamloops, British Columbia, located about 185 miles north of the U.S. border with Canada, is nearly 40 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than Minneapolis, Minnesota. Yet this is exactly what the rare July weather pattern, which is related in part to the polar vortex, brought to North America this week. Canada and the Pacific Northwest have sizzled, while parts of the Midwest and Plains states have reverted to fleece jacket weather.
Teresa Griffith says the heat in Grouard, Alberta, where she manages a convenience store is difficult to cope with, since virtually no one in that lakeside cottage community has air conditioning, including in her store.
"Here it’s definitely hotter than normal," she told Mashable in an interview on Tuesday. “It’s probably 35 degrees Celsius in this store,” she said. That works out to about 95 degrees Fahrenheit. “It is hot… people walk in and go, 'holy cow it is hot in here.'”
"You’re just sitting there and you’re just sweating,""You’re just sitting there and you’re just sweating," Griffith said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Grouard is on Alberta's largest lake, located about 250 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta.
The heat, she said, “Is not something that people are used to.”
The hot and dry weather in western Canada has caused the fire danger to spike from the Northwest Territories to Alberta and British Columbia, with numerous wildfires burning already.
“It’s pretty crazy, pretty much rated as pretty high or high in this whole province,” Griffith said of the fire danger.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., locations from Minnesota to Missouri set cold temperature records on Tuesday and Wednesday. Kansas City, Missouri, for example, set record lows on both mornings, with a low of 55 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday and 56 degrees Fahrenheit on Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, the temperature in International Falls, Minnesota, known as the nation's "Icebox," dipped to 39 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking the old record of 40 degrees set in 2007. The average low temperature in International Falls at this time of year is 56 degrees, and this week is typically among the hottest weeks of the year across the U.S., including in Minnesota.
Minneapolis on Tuesday set a record cold maximum temperature record, with a high temperature of just 65 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking the old record of 68 degrees set way back in 1884, according to the National Weather Service. On the same day, the high temperature in Kamloops was a staggering 103.1 degrees Fahrenheit, which was 10 degrees Fahrenheit above the month's typical daytime high.
At least 20 locations in British Columbia hit record highs on July 13, according to Environment Canada.
The heat in Canada and the cold in the U.S. are both tied to the meandering jet stream, which is the river of fast-flowing air at about 30,000 feet high, which helps steer weather systems and often marks the dividing line between warm and cold air masses. The jet stream lifted far to the north across western Canada, before plunging southeast toward the Gulf Coast, and then back up the East Coast of the U.S. Typically, at this time of year, the jet stream is far weaker than it is right now. It flows more or less zonally, meaning that it has more of a straight west-to-east flow.
Some meteorologists and climate scientists have noted an increasing prevalence of slow-moving, poleward large bulges in the jet stream — also known as ridges — that are often associated with heat waves and "stuck" weather patterns.
Some studies have suggested that these trends are associated with the loss of sea ice loss and related rapid Arctic warming, although this is a hotly debated topic in the scientific community.
In addition to British Columbia, the jet stream has opened the furnace door to the Northwest Territories as well. This vast, sparsely populated province is seeing a spate of wildfires.
Timothy Brown, an air traffic controller in Fort Simpson, Canada, says the weather in his community has, in just the past six years or so, departed so far from typical seasonal norms that it is difficult to accurately forecast.
Brown, who spoke to Mashable from the Fort Simpson control tower in between clearing aircraft to suppress nearby wildfires, said even computer models used to forecast the weather are failing because they are relying too much on past conditions that are no longer true.
“Nothing is predictable anymore,” he said.
Brown also noted that the visibility has been poor, just a few miles, due to the smoke from several fires.
"Every community up here is in extreme risk as far as I am concerned… you can feel it, it's just so dry," he said. "Our entire territory is a tinderbox."
This is the first year he's ever seen relative humidity — which is a measure of how moist the air is — in the single digits, rather than the more typical summer values of 10% to 20%.
“For us to even hit 30 degrees Celsius [86 degrees Fahrenheit]," Brown said, "that used to be a remarkable thing. It's not remarkable anymore.”“For us to even hit 30 degrees Celsius [86 degrees Fahrenheit]," Brown said, "that used to be a remarkable thing. It's not remarkable anymore.”
During the past several days, Brown says, there has been record heat in Fort Simpson, with highs approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat has been accompanied by a breeze that he described as akin to “a hot sahara wind" that "just made the heat worse.”
Fort Simpson is nearly 1,700 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
The jet stream is in the process of realigning itself again, sweeping the unusual cold air away from the U.S., and ushering in more extreme heat in the West for next week. It's likely that the record heat will seep into British Columbia and southern Alberta as well, although the Northwest Territories may escape the worst of it.
Tags: CANADA, CLIMATE, POLAR VORTEX, U.S., US & World, WORLD