This Week's Brutal U.S. Heat Wave Could Be a Killer

Photo: AP

The sweltering heat outside is not only annoying as hell; it’s downright dangerous. There’s no better time to sit inside with the air conditioner blasting—except that our collective need for artificial cooling may also push local power grids over the edge into a blackout similar to what New York City experienced earlier this week. And, well, if that occurs, then we’re really fucked.

This is the reality facing many across the Midwest and East Coast as a weekend heat wave takes hold. An estimated more than 290 million people will see temperatures reach at least 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the point where extreme heat illness can set in, said Astrid Caldas, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, to Earther.

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Heat warnings and advisories are all over this part of the country with the National Weather Service expecting the heat index in New York to reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit by Saturday afternoon. In North Carolina, the heat index is expected to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit by Saturday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has even declared a local emergency, ordering building owners and managers to keep their office temperatures to 78 degrees Fahrenheit from Friday morning to Sunday evening to conserve energy and prevent a grid meltdown.

All this heat poses a public health danger, especially for those working outside or those who are inside without air conditioning. Heat stroke, heat exhaustion, sunburn, and heart and asthma attacks all can result from exposure to extreme heat. Every year, some 600 people die in the U.S. due to extreme heat, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the National Weather Service notes, “Dangerously high temperatures and humidity could quickly cause heat stress or heat stroke if precautions are not taken.”

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So stay hydrated, y’all. And stay cool. This heat will be no joke. Volunteers in Madison, Wisconsin, have been knocking on doors to check on the elderly, reports CBS. This level of heat and humidity could be deadly to vulnerable populations—like the elderly, children, and lower-income families who can’t afford to run the A/C all day (if they even own one). Cities like Philadelphia, New York City, and Chicago have opened cooling centers where people can have access to free air conditioning to escape the heat.

“It’s a very serious situation when there is this type of extreme heat,” Caldas told Earther.

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Climate change is only exacerbating these events. This year’s June was the warmest the planet has ever recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A study earlier this year concluded that thousands more heat-related deaths could be seen across American cities in a hotter future. Cities that have never experienced such heat waves better get ready, Caldas said, because the sun is coming for them.

“Extreme heat is one of the best-understood impacts of climate change,” said Caldas. “I always like to really stress the connection with climate change and the importance of the reduction of global emissions to try to avoid the worst of the extreme heat in the second half of the century because we will see extreme heat even if we stopped all emissions now.”

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The future is looking hot. Maybe spend some time this weekend learning how to stay cool without making the whole climate change situation worse.

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About the author

Yessenia Funes

I mostly write about how environmental policy and climate change intersect with race and class though I occasionally write about animals, science, and art, too. We all need an escape, right?

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