By Frances Lamberts
As reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in line with a warming climate, the weather and temperature records have been unusual this year.
Over 126 years of its data gathering, NOAA indicated the 10th warmest March, it being 4.6º F above the 20th-century average in contiguous US daytime temperature. From the Rockies to the East, the agency states, nighttime temperatures were even warmer, namely 5.4º F above the last-century average.
The greater balminess has positive and very negative consequences in cost to households and the general economy. NOAA’s energy database showed demand down more than half, ranking 10th lowest in this long record. Yet ocean and atmospheric warming gave us the third-wettest year and the worst for Atlantic hurricanes. Rains and flooding left in the storms’ wake, their intensity and now often slower weakening after landfall, are boosted by the climate-warming trend.
A dangerous other result was discussed in Science in November and in a special report by the Union of Concerned Scientists in summer, 2019. “When cooling fails” describes effects of extreme heat, when combined with high humidity, on the workings of the organs and their potential failure to keep body temperature stable. “Killer Heat” by UCS reported that extreme heat conditions leading to strain or fatal heat strokes were implicated in 7415 deaths in the US, between 1999 and 2010. And one heatwave alone, in Chicago in 1995, killed more than 700.
For many persons with inadequate resources to cool their living space or if engaged in outdoor activities entailing physical exertion– military personnel, firefighters and agricultural workers for example – a further rise in frequency and severity of extreme heat days could mean serious threats to livelihood, health or even life.
The need is great, therefore, for everyone personally and, especially, for national policy action toward reducing the heat-trapping carbon emissions and secure a safer climate future. The challenge is great but far less costly than the threat of not meeting it.
Just a few decades hence, if national action is not taken, UCS concludes from its research that nearly a third of the U.S. population would experience 30 or more days with a heat index which presents great if not mortal danger to people.
We can be thankful that President-elect Biden has shown himself to care deeply about the issue. And important bipartisan legislation in the Congress, such as the Energy Innovation (HR 763) and Growing Climate Solutions (HR 7393) bills, hopefully will be passed next year and become law.