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OUR TAKE: Coming up are deadly heat waves by 2100

Researchers at the University of Hawaii at Kona wanted to study the likely impact of heatwaves as global warming continues. A post by Salon.com reports that researchers discovered that there was no good database, so they made one. They read through 30,000 studies published since 1980. They found 800 deadly heat events in 164 cities in 36 countries. What turns a heat wave into a deadly event? Several things: temperature, humidity, and level of development. While high temperatures can kill by themselves, lower temperatures coupled with high humidity is even more deadly, because the body’s cooling mechanism shuts down when sweat doesn’t evaporate.

The context of a heatwave is important too, in terms of access to plentiful water, air conditioning, and competent medical care. In part because of these contextual factors, less developed countries had more fatalities from heatwaves than did developed countries. Developing countries were also more vulnerable because many, being tropical, had smaller margins of resilience given their normally higher levels of humidity and temperatures.

us heat wave

2016 United States Heat Wave Map

Based on their findings, the researchers predict that, if the world meets the Paris Agreement target limit of 2°C rise in temperature, fully half of the world’s population will be at risk of death by heatwave by 2100. Should that mark be missed, 3/4 could be at risk. Los Angeles would face 30 days each summer over the heat/humidity threshold; in New York, 50 days per summer; in Houston and Orlando, all summer long. You can clearly see the increase in deadly heat days for various cities at this interactive map.

But that’s way in the future, right, so why worry?  But consider this: just a few days ago Phoenix saw an all-time record high temperature for that city of 119°F; the same is happening throughout the Southwest where weather experts have issued heatwave warnings that are “hazardous and excessive.”

Think about it, then call Washington.

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