Extreme weather is lashing virtually every region of the Lower 48

Nearly every corner of the Lower 48 is dealing with some sort of wild weather, with fires, floods, tornadoes and a punishing heat wave all wreaking havoc.

A staggering 120 million Americans are covered by alerts for extreme heat Tuesday, while half a million customers in the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley remain in the dark after violent thunderstorms knocked out power Monday night.

On Monday, the extreme weather was difficult to escape.

Record heat swelled from Nebraska to South Carolina. Chicago dealt with hurricane-force winds and probable tornadoes. Yellowstone National Park was blocked off to visitors because of roads made impassible by flooding. Fires raged in the Desert Southwest.

The seemingly disjointed atmospheric turmoil is all tied together in what meteorologists refer to as a “ring of fire” weather pattern. A stifling heat dome is parked over the Tennessee Valley, bringing exceptional heat and humidity while severe thunderstorms erupt along its northern fringe. In the dome’s wake, dry air has parched the Southwestern landscape, creating tinderbox conditions for fast-spreading fires. A dip in the jet stream on the heat dome’s northwest flank has allowed exceptional amounts of moisture to pour over the Northern Rockies.

The active weather pattern, with heat acting as the centerpiece, is slated to stick around for the next week or two. The heat, intensified by human-caused climate change, could well fuel more destructive storms.

Severe storms rage from the Great Lakes to Ohio Valley)

The National Weather Service received nearly 600 reports of severe weather Monday as violent thunderstorms erupted in the Midwest and charged southeastward through the Ohio Valley into southwest Virginia and western North Carolina. The storms unleashed winds up to 98 mph, downing hundreds of trees.

Forming on the northern periphery of the heat dome and energized by south-to-north temperature contrasts, the storms drew down roaring high-altitude winds as destructive gusts.

On Monday evening, the storms began along Interstate 94 between Madison and Milwaukee, dropping hen-egg-size hail before shifting over Lake Michigan.