Extreme heat and 20 million at flood risk: Climate hazards in the US today

Much of Puerto Rico is still without power as high temperatures hit the island

Tropical wave Invest-98L approaching Caribbean

The climate crisis is going to create all kinds of disasters in the coming decades as greenhouse gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, heat up the planet and send the atmosphere into chaos. Those consequences are already plaguing millions of people in the US.

Alerts from the US federal government on daily climate hazards puts millions of people under flood alerts on Thursday as hundreds of wildfires still rage across the country.

Meanwhile, hurricane season is still heating up with more danger possible from both Hurricane Fiona, which devastated Puerto Rico this week, and newer storms.

Some 15 million Americans are under flood alerts as storms push through the western US. Large areas of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico have a flood watch, with up to two inches (50 millimetres) of rain possible in the next few days.

Flood alerts are also possible around some rivers in South Dakota, Texas and Florida nearing high water levels. Coastal flooding threatens nearly five million in the US, with coastal flood watches issued for parts of Maryland and the Outer Banks regions of North Carolina.

While Hurricane Fiona has left the Caribbean behind, the storm has strengthened to Category 4. It’s forecast to brush past Bermuda on Thursday night and hit right into Atlantic Canada this weekend.

Some other tropical storm systems haven’t yet formed a cyclone but could threaten the US as they head westward across the Atlantic. One storm in particular, currently nicknamed “Invest 98L”, has a 90 per cent chance of forming at least a tropical depression in the next five days as it heads into the Caribbean, according to the National Hurricane Centre, and could later swing up toward Florida or Mexico.

Fiona’s aftermath also continues in Puerto Rico, with much of the island still without electricity or running water. While service is starting to be restored, the island is now facing a new risk from severe heat.

A combination of heat and humidity could make temperatures feel up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) along the island’s northern coast on Thursday, including around San Juan, where the National Weather Service has issued an “excessive heat warning.”

Elsewhere on the island, temperatures could feel up to 111F (44C) on Thursday, and a heat advisory is in effect. Many residents are likely to face these high temperatures without access to air conditioning since the power is still out, creating an even greater risk of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

On Thursday, there were 303 active wildfires burning across the US, mainly in the West. That includes 94 large fires that have burned through more than 900,000 acres alone — larger than Yosemite National Park.

Finally, drought continues to plague much of the country, especially in the West. More than 113 million Americans are currently living in drought conditions.

This includes parts of California, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Oregon under “exceptional drought,” the most extreme drought level, creating serious challenges for farmers and a very high risk of wildfires.

Parts of the northeast US are also facing dry weather, with some areas along the New England coast seeing “extreme drought”.

A UN climate science panel has warned that hazards like drought, heatwaves, floods, wildfires and intense storms are all likely to become more intense in the coming decades as the planet heats up.

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