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The Mountain West's alarming September heat shatters records in Utah, Nevada

A figure from the NCEI national climate report. The states' numbers indicate how September's heat ranked over 128 years of record keeping, with 128 representing the hottest on record.
National Centers for Environmental Information
A figure from the NCEI national climate report. The states' numbers indicate how September's heat ranked over 128 years of record keeping, with 128 representing the hottest on record.

News brief

It’s been hot in the Mountain West — so hot that parts of the region broke September records, new data shows.

The National Centers for Environmental Information released its national climate report for September, indicating that the month's national average temperature was 68.1 degrees Fahrenheit – the fifth warmest September in the 128-year record.

Nevada and Utah experienced their hottest September ever recorded. Both states set records that were nearly one degree Fahrenheit above their previous records.

“That may not sound like a huge difference, [but] we haven't seen that recently in the past where the record value is almost a degree Fahrenheit warmer than the previous highest value,” said Dan McEvoy, a climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center. “So this was very anomalous.”

McEvoy lives in Reno. He said temperatures around this time of year usually reach the upper 80s. This September, the first eight days of the month were all above 100 degrees. On the 6th, the Reno airport recorded 106 degrees — the second-highest temperature in the area ever recorded.

“[I] can't emphasize enough how unusual it is to see those extreme values so late in the year,” McEvoy said.

The data also shows that Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming had their second-warmest Septembers, with Colorado following right behind. New Mexico saw its fifth-warmest September.

One of the main causes was a heat wave that hit the West around Labor Day. Almost 1,000 heat records were broken across the region on Sept. 9.

“What was pretty interesting about this event is that it wasn't really isolated to one state or a small area,” McEvoy said. “This was a really big, widespread heat wave that really engulfed the entire Western U.S., which is somewhat rare to have that large of a scale of heat wave.”

The whole country saw scant precipitation during the month, with a totals reaching only 1.83 inches. That's 0.66 inches below average for September.

McEvoy said that this warming trend isn't going away.

“Be prepared for more hot years like this as we move forward,” McEvoy said. “And while it may seem extreme right now, we could certainly see something similar or more extreme moving forward.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I'm the General Assignment Reporter and Back-Up Host for KUNC, here to keep you up-to-date on news in Northern Colorado — whether I'm out in the field or sitting in the host chair. From city climate policies, to businesses closing, to the creativity of Indigenous people, I'll research what is happening in your backyard and share those stories with you as you go about your day.