Dangerous Heat Events Are Becoming More Common


via Flickr

Thomas Robinson | May 19th, 2020

Extreme heat events that threaten human safety are already occurring contrary to current climate projections, says a recent study

Researchers found that high heat events where the temperature and humidity exceed safe conditions have occurred twice as often since 1979.  These dangerous heat events occur in coastal regions like the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern California but can also occur in areas with heavy irrigation and agriculture.  The most extreme heat events were both localized and short (1-2 hours) but all signs suggest that they will only become more frequent as climate change worsens. 

The key measure in the study was the “wet-bulb temperature”, which describes what the temperature feels like if a person is actively sweating.  A sustained wet-bulb temperature of 95˚F (or a heat index of 160˚F) is the point where the sustained heat becomes deadly, but even temperatures slightly below pose dangers to the elderly or those with complications. 

Iowa is heat prone itself as our state can be extremely humid even before the addition of corn.  The 2019 Iowa Climate Statement emphasized the likelihood of more frequent, and severe heat events for Iowa, and that those events will pose a threat to workers and the elderly.  As the likelihood of dangerous heat events increases, so too does the likelihood that heat becomes a frequent concern for those in Iowa and around the world.

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