It’s Heating Up

A heat wave officially comprises three straight days of 90+ temperatures and forecasters are telling us that we could have four 90+ days with little relief at night. Our readers may be surprised to learn that more than 1200 Americans die every year from extreme heat, making heat the deadliest kind of extreme weather. By contrast, flooding, though more sensational when viewed on our TV screens, kills fewer than 100 Americans each year. In addition, it is widely believed that those 1200 deaths are a significant undercount because persons with health issues who succumb to heat may not have been deemed to have died from heat. Although senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions are the most susceptible to the dangers of excessive heat, even young and healthy individuals can succumb to heat stroke if they do not take it easy. With our region plunging from typically cool, spring weather right into the heat, those who work outside (or who work out on a daily basis) have not had time to adjust, both mentally and physically, to the onset of the extreme heat. However, we are not the only ones facing extreme heat these days. Extreme heat is a world-wide phenomenon thanks to the effects of climate change. Heat records have been set in recent days across the globe, from Greece to India to the Philippines. Every month for the past 12 months has set a world record for that month (in other words, May was the hottest-ever May, April the hottest-ever April, etc.) and June is on track to make it 13 months in a row (which means that this June will break last June’s record for the hottest-ever June). The National Weather Service is providing a new way to gauge the risk from extreme heat. In collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has launched a tool called HeatRisk which allows users to search a map of the United States to figure out their level of threat, ranging between one (little to no risk) and four (extreme risk). For those of us lucky enough to live near the coastline, a dip in the ocean will offer a respite from the heat wave. But those of us who have sampled the ocean in the past few weeks have noticed another ominous sign of climate change — the water temperature already has been far above normal. Instead of the extremity-chilling temps that are typical for May and early June, the water temp at the beaches  around Boston Harbor actually has been pleasant. So the good news is that it’s been warm enough to go for a swim — but the bad news is that the record high ocean temps are a threat to all marine life and a major contributor to rising sea levels. Finally, the combination of the hot atmosphere and the hot ocean increases the chances of extreme weather events such as hurricanes and inundating rainfall, which is occurring in southern Florida right now. We urge all of our readers not to underestimate the effects of extreme heat and to take it easy over the next few days.

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