It's Not the Heat, It's the Global Warming. Or Is It?

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Itís deadly hot in the eastern United States. For a week, huge swaths of the region have baked in unrelenting 90-degree weather that has sometimes peaked to more than 100. The heat-related death toll already stands at 25 and is likely to climb higher as heat advisories continue to be posted from Kansas eastward through the Ohio Valley and parts of the Southeast. Utilities are scrambling to keep up with the service needs generated by record air-conditioning usage. And thatís not all. Although the hot weather has people soaking through high humidity, rain has been just about as rare as a snowflake in July. From Massachusetts to Virginia, near-drought conditions are shriveling streams, burning crops and worrying water officials.

So why is this happening? Though many heat-exhausted people in the East are ready to pin the blame on human-induced global warming, the scientific community in general is not quite ready to sign on to that theory. "We are experiencing some regional heat waves, which may or may not average out over the long term," says TIME science contributor Fred Golden. TIME science correspondent Dick Thompson concurs. "You canít link a specific event ó this heat wave ó to climate change," he says. And although many experts believe the Earth is heating up, they cannot agree whether it is caused by human activity or the natural cycles that through the centuries have brought both ice ages and parched droughts.