This study investigates the roles of radiative forcing, sea surface temperatures (SSTs), and atmospheric and land initial conditions in the summer warming episodes of the United States. The summer warming episodes are defined as the significantly above-normal (1983–2012) June–August 2-m temperature anomalies and are referred to as heat waves in this study. Two contrasting cases, the summers of 2006 and 2012, are explored in detail to illustrate the distinct roles of SSTs, direct radiative forcing, and atmospheric and land initial conditions in driving U.S. summer heat waves. For 2012, simulations with the GFDL atmospheric general circulation model reveal that SSTs play a critical role. Further sensitivity experiments reveal the contributions of uniform global SST warming, SSTs in individual ocean basins, and direct radiative forcing to the geographic distribution and magnitudes of warm temperature anomalies. In contrast, for 2006, the atmospheric and land initial conditions are the key drivers. The atmospheric (land) initial conditions play a major (minor) role in the central and northwestern (eastern) United States. Because of changes in radiative forcing, the probability of areal-averaged summer temperature anomalies over the United States exceeding the observed 2012 anomaly increases with time over the early twenty-first century. La Niña (El Niño) events tend to increase (reduce) the occurrence rate of heat waves. The temperatures over the central United States are mostly influenced by El Niño/La Niña, with the central tropical Pacific playing a more important role than the eastern tropical Pacific. Thus, atmospheric and land initial conditions, SSTs, and radiative forcing are all important drivers of and sources of predictability for U.S. summer heat waves.