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Behind this summer's wild, tragic weather

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Your instincts about the weather are probably right: It has been a weird summer worldwide.

It's not just the egg-cooking temperatures in Europe, which, tragically, have been blamed for as many as 3,000 deaths in France alone.

While Parisians have been able to caramelize crème brûlée on the street and turned fountains into splash pools, residents of America's Northeast have looked, mostly in vain, for rain-free weekends at the beach. In the Southwest, persistent triple-digit temperatures wouldn't just fry eggs; it would char them asphalt-black, without mesquite flavor. From Denver to Delhi, it's been the kind of summer where, rain or shine, the place to be, it seems, is indoors. Even climatologists, who have seen or studied it all, haven't seen this pattern in such a strong and persistent form.

The big question is: Why? Some usual suspects - El Niño, La Niña, and global warming - don't seem to explain the unusual conditions.

Clearly, they say, irregular bends in the jet stream are involved. But no clear-cut reason for that pattern has emerged. In their hunt for answers, some scientists, are looking as far away as the monsoons of South Asia for clues to Miami's unseasonal rains and Madrid's outdoor oven.

"The inherent instability of the atmosphere by itself can produce a persistent pattern," such as the one that has dominated over North America and Europe this summer, says Angie Seth, an associate research scientist at the International Institute for Climate Prediction at Columbia University's Earth Institute.

One thing is clear: The year so far has been a record-breaker in a number of regions, according to the UN's World Meteorological Organization. In a recent, brief tally for the year so far, the organization notes that while old weather records topple every year somewhere around the globe, the number of extreme weather events is rising.

Indeed, the summer's weather has given people plenty to talk about. To some extent, researchers say, the conversations stem from short memories. In America's Northeast, for example, the winter snows and wet spring and summer have broken a two-year drought. Thus compared with the past two years, snowfall and rainfall this year look even more intense than they might otherwise.


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