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Predicting Heat Waves

Scientists say they’ve found a way to predict heat waves in the eastern U.S. — nearly two months before they happen! The secret has been hiding in the ocean, thousands of miles away. Fox News Chief News Anchor and Managing Editor Shepard Smith has more details...

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Scientists say they’ve found a way to predict heat waves in the eastern U.S. — nearly two months before they happen!

The secret has been hiding in the ocean, thousands of miles away.

Fox News Chief News Anchor and Managing Editor Shepard Smith has more details.

Every spring, farmers in Iowa plant their crops, hoping the weather will let their fields flourish.

“It’s been a good life. Good support for our family,” farmer Paul Dierickx said.

It hasn’t always been that way for Dierickx. He remembers some hot, dry summers in the 1980s when drought prevented his corn from coming in.

“Yeah you knew you weren't making money act year. And I was a younger man then, and money was a lot harder to come by then, so it was challenging.”

It would certainly be less challenging if he could just get advance warning of those extended dry spells.

“If I really thought that we were going to have a drought, I’d plant more drought-tolerant corn, which would survive on less water.”

Planting different crops and purchasing more insurance are just two ways farmer could potentially protect themselves after scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research reported a new way to predict periods of extreme heat.

“If you are looking at the observations, we found that there was this clear distinct pattern in the Pacific,” Karen McKinnon, with the Center for Atmospheric Research, said.

The Pacific Ocean, it turned out, offered clues of what was to come 50 days before heat waves arrived.

“During this period from 50 to 20 days is really the period that we’re focusing on,” McKinnon said.

The scientist looked back at ocean surface temperatures in the area inside this box. The reds indicate above-normal temperatures. The blues indicate below-normal temperatures. When they saw a pattern like this, with warmer-than-average temperatures next to colder-than-average water, researchers say they found a higher chance of a heat wave in parts of the Midwest, Northeast and much of the South.

“We kind-of view that as, as, a fingerprint of this hot weather that you can actually see before the weather event itself occurs,” McKinnon said.

And that could be a lifesaver.

“The potential for fatalities is huge in a — a heat emergency. And so, we take it very seriously,” Ernest Brown, with the Cook County Department of Homeland Security, said.

Folks in the Chicago area know better than anyone how devastating it can be. A heat wave in 1995 killed more than 700 people. Police trucks lined up to drop off bodies at the Cook County Morgue.

Today…

“As you can see form the inside, it holds quite a number of folks,” Brown said.

The county has inflatable cooling tents and generators ready to go at a moment’s notice. But emergency managers say having several weeks’ notice before extreme heat hits would let them do a lot of planning.

“It would give us ample opportunity to prepare and make sure that we were at a state of readiness that would allow us to deploy our assets and assist our first responding partners,” Brown said.

“This is one of the first studies that actually has demonstrated meaningful predictions of hot weather at lead times longer than 10 days,” McKinnon said.

Just like traditional weather forecasting, nothing is guaranteed. Scientists tell us at 50 days out, the ocean patterns give them only up to 25 percent odds for predicting heat waves. But by a month out, those odds go up to 50 percent.

And for folks who depend on the weather, that could make all the difference.

“Knowledge is great, whether it’s the weather or what you’re doing on the farm otherwise to make a good crop,” Dierickx said. “If you live long enough, why, they’re figurine everything out a little better every day.”