Summer swelter: The longest, sweatiest heat waves on record in NJ
Summertime in New Jersey. Traditionally, that means three things in our weather world. Heat, humidity, and thunderstorms.
One of the most important functions of my job as a meteorologist is to specifically delineate when the weather may become "dangerous". So yes, I often have to draw a somewhat subjective line between "run-of-the-mill heat" and "extreme heat".
We ring alarm bells when heat wave criteria is expected. The classic definition of a heat wave is three consecutive days of 90+ degree temperatures. Different areas of the country have different criteria, but those thresholds seem appropriate for New Jersey.
In other words, a long stretch of pounding, unrelenting heat becomes downright dangerous. To all living things — humans, animals, and plants. Hot days. Warm nights. Stifling humidity. Yuck.
In such conditions, you have to consciously take care of yourself. You know the drill. Dress appropriately for the hot weather, in light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Stay extra hydrated. And take frequent breaks from the heat, in air conditioning if possible.
So let's talk about some heat wave statistics. More specifically, the longest stretches of 90+ degree temperatures ever recorded in New Jersey.
It should not be surprising that three days in a row is nowhere near a record. In fact, the weather station at Newark Airport — usually one of the hottest spots in the state — averages just over three heat waves per year.
But even seven days in a row of intense 90-degree heat isn't all that impressive. That happens about once every three years. The last one at Newark actually wrapped up earlier this month (6/29-7/6).
In fact, to make the "Top 20" for the Garden State, a heat wave has to be at least 10 days in duration. That is some sweltering summer weather.
And at the very top, what is the longest heat wave ever recorded in New Jersey? 20 days, from July 29 to August 17, 1988. Wow, almost three weeks of oppressive heat! This was part of a series of historic, intense spells of heat and spiraling drought across the country, which led to upwards of 10,000 deaths nationwide.
Here is the rest of the list, the Top 20 longest heat waves on record in New Jersey. (As measured at four high-quality, long-duration weather stations: Newark, New Brunswick, Trenton, and Atlantic City.)
20 days... July 29-August 17, 1988 (Newark)
14 days... July 23-August 5, 1995 (Atlantic City)
14 days... July 16-29, 2010 (Newark)
13 days... August 25-September 6, 1900 (New Brunswick)
12 days... June 24-July 5, 1901 (New Brunswick)
12 days... July 14-25, 1972 (Newark)
12 days... July 24-August 4, 1999 (New Brunswick)
11 days... August 3-13, 1896 (New Brunswick)
11 days... July 15-25, 1900 (New Brunswick)
11 days... August 24-September 3, 1953 (Newark & New Brunswick)
11 days... August 26-September 5, 1973 (Newark)
11 days... June 28-July 8, 2012 (Newark & New Brunswick)
10 days... July 3-12, 1897 (New Brunswick)
10 days... July 15-24, 1955 (New Brunswick)
10 days... August 1-10, 1980 (New Brunswick)
10 days... July 13-22, 1983 (New Brunswick & Atlantic City)
10 days... July 7-16, 1993 (Newark)
10 days... August 10-19, 2002 (Newark)
10 days... July 27-August 5, 2006 (Newark)
10 days... July 15-24, 2011 (Newark)
Of course, any time extreme weather threatens New Jersey — whether it's heat or cold, rain or snow, storms or sunshine — we'll be here to cover it from top to bottom.
Stay cool this summer!
Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. For the latest steamy, sticky, sultry, sweltering, summer forecast, be sure to follow Dan on Facebook or Twitter.