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Weather map showing a sprawling heat dome centered over Kansas on July 30, 2021. (WeatherBell.com)

The latest in a series of relentless heat waves is bringing dangerously hot temperatures to a the Central U.S. on Wednesday, and will contribute to a severe thunderstorm outbreak across the Upper Midwest. The heat will expand in scope toward the end of the week.

The big picture: Heat watches, warnings and advisories are in effect across 19 states, from Portland, Oregon east to Minneapolis, and running all the way south to New Orleans. Temperatures of between 10°F and 15°F above average in these areas along with high humidity poses a public health threat.

  • This heat wave, which is forecast to continue through the end of the week in many areas, is part of a series of extreme heat events that have turned deadly this summer across the U.S. and Canada in particular.
  • A total of 81 large wildfires are burning in the West amid extreme heat and drought, routinely forming towering pyrocumulus clouds above the blazes, with upper level winds carrying smoke more than 1,000 miles east, fouling air quality all the way to Maine.
  • The heat is being exacerbated by an ongoing extreme drought — the worst so far this century — in the West. Dry soils allow incoming solar radiation to heat the air more efficiently, thereby drying out the environment even more, and adding to warming in a feedback loop.

Details: Portland, Oregon — the epicenter of a deadly heat wave in late June — is under an excessive heat watch Thursday and Friday, when temperatures could reach the century mark yet again.

  • The Pacific Northwest heat wave in June killed hundreds and bore the fingerprints of human-caused global warming, scientists found.
  • An excessive heat warning is in effect for the Twin Cities on Wednesday, where high temperatures could hit 100°F along with heat indices, which include humidity levels, of up to 110°F, the National Weather Service said.
  • In Missouri and Mississippi, heat indices of up to 115°F are forecast Wednesday through Saturday, causing the Weather Service to warn of "significant heat stress" conditions.
  • And in California, where inland areas are experiencing hotter-than-average conditions, the operator of the state's electric grid has declared a "Flex Alert" to ask residents to conserve energy due to an anticipated surge in demand, and limited excess capacity that can be brought in from out of state.

How it works: This latest heat wave comes courtesy of another "heat dome," which is an area of high pressure aloft that helps lock in place hot, dry weather. The latest heat dome is sitting over the western Plains, encouraging sinking air.

  • As the air descends, it warms up, and also squelches any showers and thunderstorms that might temporarily break the heat.
  • That is not the case along the periphery of the high pressure area, however. With elongated heat domes like this one, there tends to be a strong jet stream flowing along the boundary between hot and cooler air to the north.
  • This can create an ideal environment for severe thunderstorms, which meteorologists refer to as a "ring of fire" weather pattern, since the storms erupt on the edges of the high pressure area.
  • The Storm Prediction Center has designated the Upper Midwest as a Level 4 of 5 severe weather threat on Wednesday, mainly for the likelihood of well-organized clusters of storms that can bring severe wind damage to several states.
  • It's weather patterns like these that often lead to so-called derecho events, which can be extremely destructive. A derecho is characterized by an organized group of severe thunderstorms that brings damaging straight-line winds across long distances.
  • A derecho that struck Iowa in 2020 was the costliest-ever severe thunderstorm, causing $7.5 billion in damage. Much of Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Michigan lie in the potential path of these storms on Wednesday.

The bottom line: The heat seen this summer is no fluke, scientists say. Instead, heat waves are among the clearest consequences of a warming planet, with their likelihood, severity and duration increasing as the planet's average temperature climbs due to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

  • A study published Monday found that heat extremes such as the Pacific Northwest event, during which Portland hit an all-time high of 116°F, are likely to be far more common in coming years as the rate of global warming quickens.

Go deeper: Study: Get ready for many more record-shattering heatwaves

Go deeper

Updated Sep 22, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on bold climate commitments

On Wednesday, September 22nd, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and energy reporter Ben Geman hosted a virtual conversation on the innovative approaches climate leaders are undertaking to reshape standards for sustainability initiatives in 2022 and beyond, featuring White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp.

Gina McCarthy explained the Biden administration’s recent environmental priorities, the importance of mobilizing different communities to fight climate change, and how the White House is incentivizing private industries to reduce their emissions.   

  • On addressing extreme heat problems: "I think everybody’s beginning to understand as the President tours the sites of wildfires and flooding and other really big challenges like drought, there’s this silent killer for climate change that’s called excess heat, that really doesn’t get enough attention."
  • On cross-agency collaboration on climate change at a federal level: “It’s an exciting moment where people across the federal government are working together in ways they have never done before, not just to tackle wildfires and droughts and flooding and heat stress, but also to tackle the challenge of how we motivate our business sector and send them all the signals you would want us to send that shows that President Biden is committed to achieving net zero in 2050, and knows that this decade is a decisive decade.”

Fred Krupp highlighted how companies must be held accountable to pledges to reduce their emissions, how some corporations are breaking with lobby associations to become more vocal about climate change (and others are not), and how he believes debates surrounding the infrastructure bill will play out in the near future. 

  • On how corporate lobbying has fallen short: “Right now, we don’t see enough corporations lobbying on behalf of the climate sections of the reconciliation bill. This bill that’s pending in Congress is our once in a decade opportunity to get something done on climate.” 
  • On public support for the infrastructure bill: “I see an enormous amount of support in the American public for moving ahead with a sort of clean energy economy that are going to create tremendous numbers of jobs, clean the air, make people healthier.” 

Axios VP of Communications Yolanda Brignoni hosted a View from the Top segment with GE’s Chief Sustainability Officer Roger Martella, who discussed how GE is following through on their ESG goals by investing in sustainable energy technologies. 

  • “We create some of the most technically complex and critical technologies the world needs, and we’re focused today on innovating these technologies on a path to decarbonization.” 

Thank you GE for sponsoring this event.

Stock buybacks boom as corporate cash piles grow

The Delta variant is keeping more companies cautious about how to invest the mountains of cash they have at their disposal. That hesitancy has led, in part, to corporate spending on stock buybacks outpacing capital expenditures this year. 

Why it matters: Companies hoarded cash and raised prices over the past year — leaving them with a lot of money and decisions about what to do with it.

2 hours ago - Health

Health policies at stake in Democrats' infrastructure bet

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Democrats are at a pivotal moment in their quest to expand health care coverage, slash the cost of prescription drugs and create a social structure that prioritizes people's health.

Driving the news: Democrats have a clear list of health care priorities they'll be fighting for this week. Among them is a measure to expand Medicare to cover dental, vision and hearing benefits.