While heat and extreme events such as drought and wildfires are often associated with global warming and climate change, it's unclear if the latest pattern is part of a much larger trend.
"These events are kind of what we'd expect with climate change, we'd expect expanding drought, we'd expect warm, record breaking temperatures," Jake Crouch, a NOAA climate scientist, told NBC News. "But it's kind of hard to pinpoint this month or past several months as a telltale sign that climate change is happening. The drought is more of a local factor and isn't necessarily driven by large scale climate change, but is impacting local temperatures. But we've also seen an increase in U.S. temperatures overall."
Still, there's no doubt this summer is taking a human toll, with warmer nights making it difficult for some people to sleep, and causing physical stress, said Crouch.
And the drought rolls on, with drier-than-average conditions continuing across the Central Plains and Midwest. Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri had July precipitation totals ranking among their 10 driest.
Some rain and cooler temperatures in the drought-stricken Midwest, however, are expected to provide relief for late-season soybeans, but the change in the weather is arriving too late to help the already severely damaged corn crop, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.
"It's definitely better than what we've had but I'd be hesitant to call it a drought-buster. Longer-term outlooks still look like a return to warm and dry," said Jason Nicholls, meteorologist for AccuWeather.
Nicholls said up to three-quarters of an inch of rain, with locally heavier amounts, was expected in roughly 75 percent of the Midwest from Wednesday through Friday morning, and a similar weather system is expected next week.
Though the heat can be uncomfortable, not everyone is complaining. “The heat is definitely a blessing for us after coming off the warm, dry winter without a lot of weather events,” Alan Ayers, general manager at Crisafulli Brothers Plumbing and Heating Contractors in Albany, told the Associated Press.
The 73-year-old company has seen an 18 percent increase in new air conditioner installations over last year and has its 16 technicians working long hours to install, replace and repair units taxed by the swelter.
A storm pattern in the Southwest contributed to California's fifth wettest July on record and Nevada experiencing its eighth wettest, said NOAA. Wetter-than-average conditions were also reported through the rest of the Southwest, along the western Gulf Coast, and through the Ohio Valley where West Virginia had its tenth wettest July.
The warm and dry conditions over a large swath of the United States were seen as ideal wildfire conditions, said NOAA. More than 2 million acres burned nationwide in July because of wildfires. That is nearly half a million acres above average, and the fourth most on record since 2000.
Intellpuke: You can read this article by NBC News Correspondent Jeff Black, with reporting by Reuters and Associated Press correspondents, in context here: usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/08/13182298-july-is-hottest-month-on-record-drought-expands-to-63-percent-of-united-states?lite