The Salt Lake City heat broke parking meters and an Interstate 15 onramp on its way to shattering the big one: Hottest summer ever.
June started the sizzle, then July turned into the hottest for the city since record-keeping started in 1874.And although Tropical Depression Ivo brought rain and cooled the air, August still managed to join July in the sun and basked in the honor of hottest August on record.
“This [is] far and away the warmest summer,” said Eric Schoening, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, having just calculated the average temperature for all three months. Though the season does not end until the fall equinox on Sept. 22, meteorologists define the summer months strictly as the entirety of June, July and August.
The previous record holder was 2007.
Schoening points to the persistent high pressure over the western United States that kept the heat in place, with “very few” breaks.
Salt Lake City even broke a couple smaller records on its way to the top this year, and came just short of another.
More subtlety, climbing to victory in the dark, the city took home the “hottest summer nights” crown. Temperatures refused to plunge much after the sun set. The average nighttime lows in June came within half a degree of beating the month’s record, then ramped up and topped the records for July and August, said Simon Wang of the Utah Climate Center.
“If you plot two lines, and you see a slope for [highs] climbing, the [lows] climb twice or three times as fast,” Wang said. “This is actually the first year when [I watched] Independence Day fireworks without pulling on a blanket.”
Schoening and Wang pointed out two factors for the warm nights — factors that contributed to the daytime heat as well: the humidity and the “urban heat island effect.” Basically, streets, sidewalks and other man-made structures absorb and retain a lot of heat. In this case, even after dark, machines like cars and air conditioners kept adding more heat, particularly as more people ran their air conditioners.
It also was a historic summer for Rocky Mountain Power.
Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, said the electric company set a new system peak record on July 1, a day when temperatures reached a daily record 104 degrees. That power-consumption record topped a record in 2012, which itself exceeded a record in 2011.
The heat also got to downtown parking meters, which broke down in late June. The estimated loss of revenue during the outage, which lasted 12 days, was $90,000.
The baking heat also buckled the 600 North onramp to southbound I-15, as well as portions of I-15 near Point of the Mountain, I-15 in Clearfield, and on U.S. 40 in Summit County and a lane of Interstate 215 near 3400 South.
On Friday, Salt Lake City also beat the record for amount of 95-degree days during the season. The old record was 51.
However, one record got away, and one Schoening does not expect the city to clinch even in overtime: the amount of triple-digit highs. There have been 20 so far this summer. The record is 21. Even if you stretch summer to the fall equinox, only once in the history books has Salt Lake City ever hit at least 100 degrees in September (that was Sept. 8, 1979).
It is doable, but Jim Steenburgh, a University of Utah atmospheric sciences professor and head blogger for Wasatch Weather Weenies, says time is running out.
“The latest that the airport has reached 100 is [Sept. 8]. On the other hand, we’ve hit 99 as late as [Sept. 14] and the way this year is going we probably can’t rule out a possible 100 until mid [September],” Steenburgh wrote in a Tuesday blog post. “We’ll see if Mother Nature can bring it.”
People, including Steenburgh, started speculating weeks ago that this summer could go down as the hottest ever.
As for the immediate future, meteorologists expect it could be a rainy, hot Labor Day.
The National Weather Service predicts that a series of thunderstorms may bring rain throughout the long weekend, with the odds of precipitation getting better on Monday. Otherwise, the Wasatch Front can expect highs in the low- to mid-90s.
The same cycle of storms are expected to develop across central and southern Utah as well, with the heaviest rain in the latter. The rains could cause flash flooding in areas prone to them, including slot canyons, slickrock areas, normally dry washes and urban areas, according to the weather service.
At least the rain keeps the air clean — the Utah Division of Air Quality rates breathability at “green,” or healthy, statewide. Meanwhile, the Intermountain Allergy & Asthma website rates chenopods and mold at “high” and ragweed and sagebrush at “moderate” on its pollen index.
Salt Lake City’s high temperature for Sunday is forecast at 94 degrees, then 87 on Monday; Ogden is set for 94 and 86 degrees, respectively; Provo 94 and 88; Logan 94 and 86; Wendover 92 and 88; Duchesne 83 and 79; Cedar City 79 and 83; St. George 92 and 96; and Moab 92 and 93.