With the cold winters in the Washington, D.C., area over the last few years, it may be difficult to believe that heat exposure is expected to rise substantially over the next several decades. Among major cities such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, and Tampa, Washington, D.C., is also considered a hotspot that will likely experience the brunt of this six-fold increased heat exposure by the year 2070.
Climate and Population Converge
A climate study conducted by the City University of New York (CUNY) and researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), emphasizes the effects of climate and population and how increased heat waves will affect the future health of many Americans. Eleven high-resolution simulations were used in the study, forecasting future temperatures across the country through 2070. The study assumed no major reductions in greenhouse gases, but considered the projected population growth and regional migration shifts.
The study found that the number of “person-days” — calculated by multiplying the number of people affected in extreme heat areas by the number of days when temps are likely to reach greater than 95 degrees — increased substantially from 2.3 billion person-days between 1971 and 2000 to as much as 14 billion person-days during the study period between 2041 and 2070.
Roughly one-third of the study’s projected heat increase results from changes in world climate. Population change is attributed to another third.
Finally, there’s the issue of how climate and population interact with one another. The areas that are heating up the fastest are doing so because the population is shifting into those areas. Due to the population growth in areas that are also getting hotter, an increase in the exposure to extreme heat is expected.
What Does This Information Mean for the Future?
The number of days during which temperatures exceed 95 degrees are estimated to increase dramatically through the year 2070. Regions that will experience the most intense heat exposures are the west south-central states of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. South mid-Atlantic states — Maryland and West Virginia — down to Florida will see the second-highest increase, which includes Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas.
This increase will result in dangerous heat waves in the coming decades, not only in these regions where the highest increases in temperatures are expected, but all across the country. And it isn’t the heat we have to worry about. When both temperatures and the humidity rise, plants are unable to do their jobs properly.
Plants reduce air pollution by absorbing ozone and other pollutants, but did you know that excessive heat can prevent plants from doing this crucial job? A study from the peer-reviewed Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics journal found that during times of high heat, plants shut down their stomatal function to conserve water, which decreases the amount of pollution they absorb. When less pollution is absorbed, people are at greater risk for respiratory-related illnesses, which can lead to death.
The study’s lead author, Lisa Emberson, and her colleagues discovered that the loss of ozone absorption by these plants that had closed their stomata to conserve water had resulted in an estimated 460 deaths in the United Kingdom during the summer of 2006. These deaths could have been avoided if plants were cleaning the air at their full capacity. If average temperatures are expected to rise, and continue to rise, over the coming decades, these incidents will only increase and become all too common.
Heat Wave Health Risks
According to Emberson’s study, the most vulnerable people to this type of ozone pollution are those with cardiovascular disease and existing respiratory issues. When ozone accumulates at ground-level and plants are unable to do their jobs of absorbing pollutants, people can start to develop lung inflammation. This inflammation can lead to an increase in asthma attacks and decreased lung function. On days with excessive heat and humidity, staying indoors with proper air conditioning is essential, but not everyone is lucky. Heat waves can pose health risks, from dehydration and illness to heat strokes and death.
The human body functions best at an average core temperature of 98.6 degrees. Thermoregulation helps regulate body temperature when you get overheated, but releasing body heat naturally isn’t always enough to regulate your temperature. Perspiration then kicks in, but humidity can often get in the way of the body’s natural process to cool itself. A higher humidity means that sweat is less likely to evaporate from the skin, so the body isn’t able to naturally cool itself. The body’s thermoregulation fails, and a person’s temperature will remain high.
In drier areas, perspiration works more effectively, but failing to replenish the body’s water levels can result in dehydration. When temperatures are six times higher across the country, there’s an even greater risk of states that may deal with long-term droughts. The situation becomes grim, with increased frequencies of heat stroke, heart and kidney failure, heat exhaustion, seizures, and even fatal symptoms.
Currently, heat alone causes 675 deaths in the U.S. each year. Imagine how greater that number will be when heat extremes rise six times higher than their current levels.
Reducing Your Exposure
Staying out of the heat altogether isn’t probable, but you can take several steps to reduce your exposure to heat extremes. As heat exposure increases through the indicated study years, you’ll be better prepared to ward off heat-related health risks and keep your family safe.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids during the summer months is key to helping your body regulate its own temperature.
- Use sunscreen. Getting sunburned can affect your body’s ability to cool itself, so take preventive measures. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more, reapplying as needed. Alternatively, you can wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to protect yourself outdoors.
- Understand medication side effects. Certain medications list interactions with the sun or extreme heat, so be aware of any interactions, as exposure can prevent your body from dissipating heat or from protecting itself against sunburns.
- Never leave children or pets unattended in a parked car. This scenario is a major cause of heat-related deaths for both children and pets, so don’t even attempt this act, even if you think you’ll only be a minute. Either take them with you on errands or bring along someone else who can sit in the running vehicle with the air conditioning running.
- Wear lightweight clothing. Avoid layering in the summertime and choose loose-fitting garments that allow the skin to breathe. When you skin can breathe, you allow your body’s temperature regulating systems to work properly.
- Avoid strenuous activity in the heat. Exercise and outdoor chores can be put off until the early morning or late evening hours. Laborers who work outdoors may not be able to avoid extreme heat, making resting frequently and staying hydrated important.
- Have a modern HVAC system installed and properly maintained. While the “H” in HVAC, which stands for “heat,” likely won’t be used as frequently in the future when temperatures rise, air conditioning will be crucial for survival. Regular maintenance can also cut down on the likelihood that your HVAC system will malfunction when you need it most.
Stay Cool With an Eco-Friendly Air Conditioning System from Griffith Energy Services Inc.
The years the study focused on may seem far away, but heat-related illnesses and fatalities are real issues for Americans every summer. Our modern air conditioning systems combine exceptional comfort with energy savings that reduce your home’s environmental impact.
Considering the study’s alarming results, eco-friendly cooling methods are more critical than ever, so opt to cool down your living space with efficient cooling options that don’t contribute to the nation’s warming problem. When excessive heat exposure does hit, it will be more important than ever to ensure your HVAC system is properly maintained and in working order.
Before the next heat wave strikes, call Griffith Energy Services Inc. at 888-474-3391 to learn more about our eco-friendly, energy-efficient air conditioning services and products.
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