Extreme Heat

It seems that we experience a new record, or near record, temperature daily.

At 4:15 p.m. yesterday (August 13th) my Dark Sky weather app indicated that the temperature was 96º, with a heat index of 105º, outside my home in metro Atlanta.

I had met a friend, an author, earlier in the day at a local Starbucks to chat about a number of things, including climate change and the usual old man stuff. (If you are a male, age 65+, you’ll understand.) We tried to sit outside but it was too damn hot and humid. So, we went inside where the temperature was significantly cooler, which explains my sniffling today.

I went to graduate school in Arizona in 1975. For the second time in my young life, I was told that although the temperature might be 100º it wouldn’t feel particularly bad because the humidity would be low. The first time I received that sage advice occurred upon my receipt of orders to report to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, in July 1970, during my brief and none-too-heroic military career. Regardless, on both occasions, at mid-day it felt as if I walked into an open oven belying that sage advice.

Here in metro Atlanta, when the temperature is 90+ degrees accompanied by high relative humidity, the high heat index makes weather conditions unbearable. Very similar to times I spent in Singapore and Panama, where my glasses would fog immediately upon exiting the hotel.

A little later at 4:20 p.m., the Washington Post published an article describing the extreme heat waves that people in the US, and around the world, are currently experiencing. One of the examples the author used to explain the extreme heat was fact that the water in the Gulf of Mexico is currently about one degree Fahrenheit above normal this year. That means that the air over the Gulf can hold more moisture. When water temperatures rise, the capacity of the atmosphere to hold additional water vapor also rises. In other words, the extreme heat accompanied by the increased humidity drives the heat index up, making the weather seem more uncomfortable and dangerous. The heat index is determined by temperature plus relative humidity.The heat index can take an otherwise nondescript hot day and make it (and you) feel absolutely miserable.

He described the implications of the heat index in New Orleans. He pointed out that there is “9.7 percent more moisture in the air now, on average, than there was in 1970.” And, “the overnight summer lows are warming 280 percent faster than daytime highs.” That’s unbearable.

He also highlighted a study published by Environmental Research Communications. The authors of that study pointed out that within the next twenty to fifty years the numbers of days with heat indices exceeding 100º are expected to double.

Interestingly, the New York Times published an article yesterday, as well, about the current heat wave we are experiencing in the South. This article indicated that more than 17 million people have been affected by excessive heat warnings. And, “merely”, a heat advisory was issued for Texas and Georgia. The author indicated that the National Weather Service in Jackson, MS issued a bulletin, warning of the risks of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

The fourth time I ran the Marine Corps Marathon I experienced heat exhaustion issues in my 21st mile while crossing back into Virginia. I was pulled off the course by a couple of Marine Corps medics (who was I to argue?) as they observed that I was staggering on the course. They plugged an IV into my arm, put me on the back of a golf cart and sent me to the emergency medical tent. It wasn’t a terribly pleasant experience as I became DNF (did not finish) for that race. Humbling. Unfortunately, about 20% of the runners ran into similar problems that year because of the heat index and the overexertion of foolishly attempting to complete 22.6 miles in a respectable time.

During the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training that I recently completed, it was pointed out that the last five years have been the hottest on record. I wouldn’t be surprised if 2019 turns out to earn a very enviable position on the list of hottest years on record, given the extreme heat so far this summer. Keep in mind that June and July both broke the record for the hottest month of June and July, respectively.

An article published earlier this year referenced a new study from the independent think tank Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Melbourne (Australia). Its authors felt that “climate scientists are too restrained in their predictions of how climate change will affect the planet in the near future.” (How “uplifting” given the spate of end of world dystopian scenarios.) They believe that “the human race has about one decade left to mount a global movement to transition the world economy to a zero-carbon emissions system.” One decade! Their conclusions were supported by a retired Australian defense chief. With four more years of Trump? Fat chance! I do not believe that it is likely that their recommendations will be implemented within the next decade. Hopefully, they will be proven wrong. I fear not, however.

Finally, the Washington Post also published an article yesterday headlined “2ºC: Beyond the Limit, Extreme climate change has arrived in America.”

The article described, in detail, the implications of exceeding an average temperature increase of 2º Centigrade. As you are probably aware, the signatories of the Paris Climate Agreement agreed that actions needed to be taken to keep our planet’s average temperature below 2º C by the end of the century. The authors of this article pointed out that a Washington Post analysis of NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) weather data “found that major areas are nearing or have already crossed the 2-degree Celsius mark.” That sort of gives us a running start towards climate catastrophe. Following are some of the major conclusions of the Post analysis:

  • Ten percent of the US population is “living in rapidly heating regions, including New York City and Los Angeles.”

  • “Seventy-one counties have already exceeded the 2º C warming limit.”

  • Although Alaska (yes, Alaska!) is the fastest-warming state in the country, a number of the states in New England the mid-Atlantic regions closely follow.

  • New Jersey and Rhode Island are the fastest warming states in the Lower 48 due to their warming winters. Both now have average temperature increases that are perilously close to 2º C.

Each of these articles references canaries in the coal mine. Without immediate action, the worst scenarios are likely to play out, far sooner than anyone (other than the Australian think tank members) expected.

And, that, my friends would be a very, very bad thing.

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