By Mike Godsey

The news is full of dire warnings of a “Heat Dome” over the western USA. You may know that that a heat dome traps hot air in like a lid, causing scorching temperatures. If, not you surely know that a heat dome spells misery.

But exactly who does all this happen? And are “Heat Domes” becoming more common? And, if you are a wind worried wind sports addict, just skip to #11!

Let’s look at the major steps creating a Heat Dome these uncomfortable and even dangerous conditions.

The winds in blue on the left image show an upper ridge of high-pressure. As you watch the hours pass notice how the upper ridge at about 18,000 feet moves northward bringing warmer air over the West. Then notice how the surface temperatures go up during the day time

1, The process starts an upper high-pressure ridge moves over western USA so warmer air moves northward. You can see this happening in the animation above.

2, This upper ridge may evolve into an Omega Block shape that slows the normal movement of weather from west to east and traps the warmer air. You can see this Omega Block in the next image.

Notice the strong low-pressure storm west of the Omega Block. Normally such a storm would be swept eastward towards the Pacific Northwest and Canada bringing a cool down. But block holds the storm away from the west coast

3, Descending air in the high-pressure ridge compresses as it nears the surface further heating the surface air and creating a “Heat Dome”

4, Descending air in the Heat Dome also traps warm air trying to rise from the surface so temperatures continue to increase.

5. The same descending air pushes natural dust particles and human made polluntants towards the surface so the air become brown and stagnant.

5, As the air compresses it dries out and humidity levels drops.

6, Lower humidity and high temperatures dries out plants and the soil the so we lose the cooling effect of evaporation and the heat wave becomes worse. As water leaves plants the percentage of oils and resins in leaves and twigs goes up making them more flammable.

7, As the air continues to descend it spirals outward in a clockwise fashion around the Heat Bubble evaporating clouds or diverting them away from the dome so there is less cooling shade or chance of rain.

8, All this increases the risk of wild fires.

9, This process can continue for days or weeks until the Omega Block breaks down and westerly upper level winds destroy the heat dome.

10, Meanwhile, the winds spiraling out from the southern and western flank of the heat dome can sweep moist tropical from the Gulf of Mexico and the Sea of Cortez towards the west coast. These “Monsoonal” conditions bring unstable air and rising clouds resulting in thunderstorms, lightening and wildfires as the heat wave ends.

11, West Coast wind sports are driven by having the North Pacific High off the coast of California and low-pressure inland. With a heat dome over the western USA surface low-pressure expands over west coast. This weakens the winds the San Francisco Bay Area, the Southern California coast and the Columbia River Gorge. But as the heat wave ends very strong winds SOMETIMES arrive!

The elephant in the room is the question: “are “Heat Domes” becoming more common and who is to blame”

It is impossible to determine the role of Climate change in any individual heat dome. But we can look at Climate models and historical data to look for trends.

Scientists estimate that a heat dome like the major 2021 event is now far more likely compared to pre-industrial times.

All the climates models available internationally suggest that a warming earth will produce an increased frequency of “Heat Bubble”.

But if you don’t trust scientists then look at the sale rates of Air Conditioners world wide. Some of the people buying all those AC units probably don’t believe in global warming but their sweat does!

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  67. Acknowledgements
  68. This study is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant No. 41988101. We thank the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for providing the Global Historical Climatology Network Daily database (GHCN-D):, and the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts for providing the ERA5 reanalysis data:!/search?type=dataset. We also appreciate the National Center for Atmospheric Research for producing and making available their model (CESM1) output (
  69. Author information
  70. Authors and Affiliations
  71. State Key Laboratory of Numerical Modeling for Atmospheric Sciences and Geophysical Fluid Dynamics (LASG), Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100029, ChinaXing Zhang, Tianjun Zhou, Wenxia Zhang, Jie Jiang, Shuai Hu, Meng Zuo, Lixia Zhang & Wenmin Man
  72. University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, 100049, ChinaXing Zhang & Tianjun Zhou
  73. China Meteorological Administration, Beijing, 100081, ChinaLiwen Ren
  74. Contributions
  75. T.Z. designed the research and contributed to the interpretation and presentation of the results. X.Z. performed the analysis, drafted the manuscript, and contributed to the interpretation of the results. W.Z. contributed to the interpretation and presentation of the results. L.R. helped the study of methods and contributed to the interpretation and presentation of the results. J.J., S.H., M.Z., L.Z., and W.M. helped to organize and revise the draft.
  76. Corresponding author
  77. Correspondence to Tianjun Zhou.
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  80. The authors declare no competing interests.
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  93. Zhang, X., Zhou, T., Zhang, W. et al. Increased impact of heat domes on 2021-like heat extremes in North America under global warming. Nat Commun 14, 1690 (2023).
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  95. Received16 June 2022
  96. Accepted09 March 2023
  97. Published27 March 2023
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