Because of wildfires in Canada, the sky above New York City turned orange in June. Smoke partially eclipsed the sun and caused the worst air-quality levels on record for the city. Most New Yorkers wisely stayed inside, and the streets of Manhattan fell silent, eerily reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic.
After blanketing the Midwest, the smoke eventually cleared, just as temperatures started to rise across the country. A record-setting heatwave in Texas lasted for more than a week and sent hundreds of people to the emergency room. Temperatures throughout the South registered 20 degrees higher than normal, while parts of northern California experienced a sudden spike in temperatures following a cooler-than-usual start to the summer. On the Fourth of July, likely the hottest day on earth in 125,000 years, 57 million Americans were exposed to dangerous heat, the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States.
El Niño is one cause of this year’s severe heat. This naturally occurring phenomenon, marked by warmer waters in the Pacific, disrupts jet streams and weakens trade winds, raising temperatures around the world. But the more general cause is climate change, which exacerbates El Niño. The result has been flooding in Oklahoma, Chicago, Vermont, and upstate New York, as well as the aforementioned wildfires in Canada, which released more carbon than Indonesia did in all of 2022. Wildfires in California now account for as much pollution as fossil fuels do.