‘Killer Heat’ Won’t Be Just Uncomfortable, It Will Be A Health Risk

In 1995, a heat wave killed more than 700 people in Chicago. It affected mostly elderly, African-American women who lived on their own.

A report released this week shows climate change could mean a lot more days of extreme heat for Florida and Tampa Bay, and with it, the likelihood residents will be exposed to significant health risks.

In addition to citing the Chicago deaths, the report’s author said few people will be immune to extreme heat’s effects.

“One hundred and five (degrees) is where everybody – not just people who work outside or people who are more vulnerable physiologically – like children, or the elderly, or people with pre-existing conditions – we’re talking about everybody is at risk of severe illness or death due to extreme heat,” Juan Declet-Baretto said.

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The report, called Killer Heat in the United States, was produced by a nonprofit science advocacy group called The Union of Concerned Scientists. Among its findings was that Tampa Bay area cities now average about four days year of “extreme heat” of over 105 degrees.

If nothing is done to slow global warming, by the end of the century we could see 127 such days of heat over 105 degrees a year.

That kind of heat could pose serious health risks – especially for low-income and elderly residents, Declet-Baretto said.

“We’re talking about people living with low incomes, people without the ability to purchase or operate an air conditioning unit because of the costs, and we know cities have higher energy costs than other places,” Declet-Baretto said. “In addition, many low-income people don’t have access to preventative health care, which may imply that certain pre-existing conditions they have could become aggravated under extreme heat episodes.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the age ranges most at risk for heat-related illnesses are children up to 4 years old and those over 65. Those who are overweight also carry a higher risk.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat-related illness, according to the CDC. Warning signs include hot, dry skin, headache, dizziness, nausea and confusion, and it occurs when a person’s body temperature exceeds 103 degrees.

The higher temperatures also could result in more pollutants in the air that could cause difficulty breathing and result in respiratory problems, according to the CDC.

Declet-Baretto says the heat won’t just affect people. It could affect everything from the number of fish kills and algae outbreaks to more forest fires and even strain the nation’s electric grid as more people plug in their air conditioners.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

The U.S. Southeast region, as defined by the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment, would be the hardest hit seeing an average of 96 days per year with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, 73 days per year with a heat index above 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 12 “off-the-charts” days per year by the end of the century if no action is taken to reduce global warming emissions, with Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi seeing the largest rise in extreme heat.

 

Florida

  • Historically, there have been 125 days per year on average with a heat index above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the worker safety threshold. This would increase to 166 days per year on average by midcentury and 186 by the century’s end.
  • Historically, there have been 25 days per year on average with a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This would increase to 105 days per year on average by midcentury and 141 by the century’s end. Of the cities with a population of 50,000 or more in the state, Bonita Springs, Cape Coral and North Port-Port Charlotte would experience the highest frequency of these days. Limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would cap the frequency of such days at an average of 87 per year.
  • By the end of the century, an estimated 17.6 million people would be exposed to a heat index above 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the equivalent of two months or more per year. By limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, about 570,000 of those residents would avoid such days of extreme conditions.
  • Historically, there has been an average of four days per year with a heat index above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. This would increase to 63 days per year on average by midcentury and 111 by the century’s end. Limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels would cap the frequency of such days at an average of 41 per year.
  • By the end of the century, an estimated 17.6 million people would be exposed to a heat index above 105 degrees Fahrenheit for the equivalent of a month or more per year. By limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, roughly 5.1 million of those residents would avoid such days of extreme conditions.
  • Historically, the state as a whole has experienced zero “off-the-charts” heat days in an average year. This would increase to two days per year on average by midcentury and 15 by the end of the century. Limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius would cap the frequency of such days at an average of zero per year.
  • By the end of the century, an estimated 13 million people would endure “off-the-charts” heat days for the equivalent of a week or more per year. Historically, fewer than 2,000 people nationwide have experienced such conditions in an average year. By limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, all residents would avoid such days of extreme conditions.
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