David Biello is the associate editor for environment and energy at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter
Hot weather is more than uncomfortable; it’s a killer. In fact, heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the U.S. In an average year, heat kills more people than floods, hurricanes, lightning and tornadoes combined, according to the National Weather Service.
And this year is going to get hotter than normal. “Most of the country will have above normal temperatures for the rest of June, July and August,” Steven Cooper, acting deputy director of the National Weather Service, said during in a conference call on June 20 with reporters. “Heat is an overlooked hazard because many people don’t recognize the hazard until they are already in trouble.” In fact, just a few weeks back, several dozens of Girl Scouts from around the country who descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to celebrate that organization’s centennial had to be treated for heat exhaustion.
Today marks the summer solstice, which will arrive at 19:09 EDT this evening, and summer has arrived with a vengeance in the Eastern time zone. High temperature records for this time of year may be reset today or tomorrow as temperatures rise 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit above average for this time of year in cities including New York and Washington, D.C. The desert southwest will see temperatures of 110 degrees F or above until Friday and the middle of the country can expect a similar heat wave early next week. “It’s setting up what looks like another hot summer,” NWS meteorologist Eli Jacks observed on the same phone call.
What to do? Three simple words: water, rest and shade. This is particularly true for the thousands of people whose jobs require them to be outdoors, whether farmhands or traffic cops. Drink water often, whether you’re thirsty or not. Wear a hat. Take periodic breaks to cool down in the shade. Know the symptoms of heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses (heat cramps, heavy sweating, weakness, fainting and/or vomiting, rapid pulse).
And see if you can acclimate. While this particular heat wave may not be linked directly to the rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it is typical of the type of extreme weather we can expect more and more of as the climate changes. Ironically, that trend probably means we’ll burn more of the coal that is the leading cause of climate change as we rely more and more on electric-powered air conditioners, or at least fans, to beat the heat. Hot damn.
Image: © iStockphoto.com / Michiel de Boer