Climate change has been shown to negatively impact the natural disasters that occur on our planet. Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, are well known to be connected to climate change; however, a lesser-known natural disaster that is just as prevalent is heat waves.
Heat waves occur when a system of high atmospheric pressure moves into an area and can last several days or even up to several weeks. In a high pressure system, the air from the upper levels of the atmosphere is pulled towards the ground where it becomes compressed and increases temperature. Climate change is causing the heat waves that we experience now to become more frequent than they have been in the past. Climate change is shifting the temperature bell curve towards the hotter part of the scale, and even small shifts in that scale result in extreme heat conditions. In the 1960s, the average amount of heat waves in the United States was two per year, but by the 2010s, that number had increased to five heat waves per year. The heat waves that we experience are also lasting longer because of climate change. Climate change has forced weather systems to move around based on temperature differences within air currents; consequently, these temperature differences allow heat waves that arrive to an area to stay longer than they should.
The notion of heat waves may not spark the same amount of fear in people as a hurricane or a tornado would. In fact, it isn’t possible to visualize the damage from a heat wave as that from a hurricane or a tornado. Despite the lack of photographic evidence, heat waves cause more deaths in the United States than either hurricanes or tornadoes. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as cited from its natural hazard statistics, heat waves cause more fatalities than any other weather hazard and also cause twice as many deaths than other natural disasters in the United States each year. As the climate continues to warm, these numbers could continue to increase. Europe has likewise been detrimentally affected from heat waves. In 2003, a heat wave which was estimated to have caused 70,000 deaths struck Europe. In 2017, Europe was again hit with another exceptionally strong heat wave, named“Lucifer” due to the enormous loss of life sustained
The effects of heat waves are not the same for all groups of people. The most vulnerable groups of people to heat waves are young children, the elderly, and people who have health issues or who are otherwise immunocompromised. Climate change is causing fatalities to increase as the weather gets warmer, resulting in intensifying heat waves.As these heat waves last longer and become more frequent, the number of deaths will only increase.