What Causes Heat Waves?

Just some hot weather? WRONG! During a heat wave, the sun is conspiring with the earth’s atmosphere to kill you dead. But how?

the sun, what causes heatwaves guide

Let’s make some definitions first. While a week of hot days might seem like a heat wave, a weather system doesn’t officially take on “heat wave” status (alternately “heatwave,” “hot-wave,” or “hot-spell”) unless temperatures are outside historical averages for the area. In other words, a week of 100°F temperatures might be considered a heat wave in Maine, but in Nevada, it’s the norm! 

These abnormally high temperatures can last a few days (e.g. a super sultry weekend) or longer… making you sweat for weeks at a time.

Now, onto the sun & atmosphere’s conspiracy against humanity, as promised. Heat waves are generally caused by high pressure weather systems that force air downward. The pressure keeps air from circulating as it normally would, trapping hot air and creating an “oven” effect in the immediate area. Temperatures rise as the sun continues to warm the trapped air, until the pressure system relents, allowing cooler air to circulate.

The next time you’re trying to sleep during a heat wave, sweating through the night, take the opportunity to pretend you’re a happy little cookie baking in a cosmic convection oven… but only if the oven isn’t hot enough to threaten your life. Be smart about pretend play. Play safe to stay safe.

Now that we know the causes, let’s explore the effects.

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.