The Dangers of Heat Waves
Wed, April 21, 2021

The Dangers of Heat Waves

Hot days are getting hotter and more frequent across the globe. Throughout the past decades, heat waves have become alarmingly more common due to climate change and global warming / Photo by: Wang Tom via 123RF

 

Hot days are getting hotter and more frequent across the globe. Throughout the past decades, heat waves have become alarmingly more common due to climate change and global warming. Record-breaking temperatures are recorded five times more often than they would without any human-caused global warming. Unfortunately, the growing risk from heat waves is ignored by those who continuously argue that they have happened in the past. Hence, current heat waves must be natural. But that’s not true.

Climate Communication, a non-profit science and outreach project, reported that there has been an increasing trend in high-humidity heat waves in the past three to four decades. These waves are characterized by the persistence of extremely high night-temperature. What people are not aware of is that the combination of high humidity and high night-temperature can make a deadly pairing. Also, extreme heat events across the world cause more deaths compared to tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, floods, and earthquakes combined every year.

It was also reported that extremely warm nights that used to come once in 20 years now happen every 10 years. This is because climate change has shifted the odds and changed the natural limits of our planet. Thus, it is expected that extreme heat waves would become the norm across the world by the late 21st century. Aside from the changes in extreme temperatures, there has been an increase in heat stress trends over the late 20th to early 21st century. 

A study revealed that 20% of the 187 weather stations across the US between 1949 and 2005 showed a substantial increase in extreme heat stress events. These stations recorded 12 more days with extreme heat stress per year in 2005 than they did in 1949. By 2100, it is projected that all parts of the US are likely to experience more heat waves if carbon emissions continue to grow.

The Dangers of Heat Waves

Over the years, scientists and researchers have studied the increasing heat waves and their impacts. However, their spatial size or the order of magnitude of extent or size had yet to be reported on. Recent research conducted by scientists funded in part by the NOAA Climate Program Office's Climate Observations and Monitoring Program examined the spatial size of heat waves. The team examined it under two different scenarios.

According to Phys.org, an internet portal provides the latest news on science, the average size of heat waves in a middle greenhouse emissions scenario could increase by 50% by mid-century. Meanwhile, the average size could increase by 80% under high greenhouse gas concentrations. The more extreme the heat waves are, the more its spatial size could increase. The researchers discovered that related aspects including magnitude, duration, and cooling degree days could increase substantially as well.

Lead author Brad Lyon, Associate Research Professor at the University of Maine, stated that more and more people would be exposed to heat stress as the spatial size of heat waves in affected areas increases. "Larger heat waves would also increase electrical loads and peak energy demand on the grid as more people and businesses turn on air conditioning in response,” Lyon said. 

Over the years, scientists and researchers have studied the increasing heat waves and their impacts. However, their spatial size or the order of magnitude of extent or size had yet to be reported on / Photo by: Antonio Guillem via 123RF

 

A recent study published in the journal Science Advances found that commuters traveling from the suburbs to cities in the future are going to encounter hotter than expected weather when they reach their destination. Lyon stated these results were not surprising. "An increase in attributes like magnitude and duration is consistent with expectations of a warming climate. What is new in our study is the way we calculated them, which allowed us to consider size as a new heat wave dimension,” he added. 

For the past few months, Australia has been facing record-breaking heat, which resulted in severe bushfires all over the country. According to C2ES, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to forge practical solutions to climate change, one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths in the US is extreme heat. Reports show that it kills over 600 people every year.

The risk for heat-related emergencies is particularly high for pets, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or even heat stroke. These can cause brain, heart, or kidney failure and tissue damage. Also, heat waves could lead to electricity reliability issues because it can lower the ability of transmission lines to carry power. 

Many types of infrastructure are affected by extreme heat such as our roads, rails, and air travel. In 2017, dozens of flight cancellations occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, when temperatures increased to 119°F. This is above the operable limit of several types of aircraft.

How to Stay Safe

According to Time, an American weekly news magazine published in New York City, experts recommended that people drink plenty of water, refrain from doing exhausting work outside, and conserve electricity to reduce the strain on power grids. If you are planning to spend extended time outside, it’s better to do it in the morning and take plenty of breaks. 

As a general rule, avoid consuming excess caffeine and alcohol. Both of these drinks are diuretics and will further dehydrate your body. Amy Barger Stevens, a family medicine physician and vice president of the UT Primary Care Collaborative at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, stated that it’s important to drink plenty of fluids. 

"When we tell people to hydrate, they usually think of just replacing their lost fluids with water. But since water alone doesn’t have enough sodium and potassium for your bloodstream, you'll want to drink both water and sports drinks with electrolytes,” she said.

Heat waves are becoming more dangerous than ever. While it is essential to learn safety tips in light of the worsening weather, it’s still of utmost importance to address the main causes of the heat waves.

According to Time, an American weekly news magazine published in New York City, experts recommended that people drink plenty of water, refrain from doing exhausting work outside, and conserve electricity to reduce the strain on power grids / Photo by: Tommaso Altamura via 123RF