An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Last summer, a deadly heat wave hit the Northwest Pacific, causing temperatures to rise more than 30 degrees Fahrenheit above normal and killing more than a thousand people. A new study has revealed the sequence of events that led to the disaster, providing information that could deepen our understanding of heat generation on the North American continent. Examining large-scale weather and education conditions before the heat wave, researchers at the University of Chicago found that the cyclone generated an “anticyclone” that combined to produce and then retain heat near the region’s surface.

[…] Using data collected from satellites and on earth, scientists from Chicago set out to reconstruct the sequence of events. They found that a week earlier a cyclone had formed over the Gulf of Alaska. Cyclones are large spiral-shaped systems that form around the center of low pressure. (Think of the spiral clouds you see during hurricanes.) When clouds are formed from water vapor, the process actually releases heat that has accumulated in the atmosphere. Then, as the cyclone slowly receded, it caused an anticyclone to form in the east – a system that slowly rotates around a center of high pressure rather than low. They are known as “blocking” systems because they disrupt the normal movement of weather systems to the east. The blocking anticyclone acts like a blanket, retaining heat in the region. As a result, a warm, stagnant column of air was formed, making it difficult for heat to escape from the surface into the upper atmosphere, as is usually the case. The study is published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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