Yes, Virginia (and Ohio), It Is Getting Hotter

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With talk about the current heat wave affecting the eastern United States turning from "When's it going to end" to "Is it ever going to end?" people's thoughts are turning to the specter of global warming. The baking, broiling and boiling certainly continued unabated Friday, as the death toll climbed to at least 75. And record-breaking temperatures and heat index numbers above 100 can be expected to continue through huge swaths of the nation for several more days. The immediate culprit, say meteorologists, is a stubborn Bermuda high that refuses to budge and keeps pumping warm, humid Caribbean winds up through the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard.

"Nobody really knows why this Bermuda high wonít move," says TIME science correspondent Dick Thompson. While the popular temptation is to blame the current heat wave on industry-induced global warming, most scientists are reluctant to do so. "There is a lot of variation in the weather naturally and this heat wave is within normal variations," says Thompson. Nevertheless, based on other observations, a scientific consensus is emerging that global warming is here. Even during this quite possibly normal heat wave, says Thompson "you donít see a big cooling off period at night, and this is consistent with the global warming theory that the greenhouse gases are trapping the heat." Scientists are also concerned about other recent signs: a northward shift in butterfly migration patterns in North Africa and Europe and no iceberg sitings in the North Atlantic as of three weeks ago. Whatever the reasons for the current heat wave -- or whether it fits in with overall global warming -- meteorologists predict it will soon produce more bad news in the East. "The warm conditions could lead to large, intense hurricanes later this year," says Thompson.