Heat Waves Are the New Normal

August 4, 2022

USAToday (sub required):

Think the intense heat baking the nation and much of the world this summer seems like an apocalyptic blockbuster? Just wait for the sequel.

Already occurring more often, heat waves are forecast to increase in potency and duration because of climate change, say scientists – who fear the globe is ill-prepared to handle the punishing toll.

“I can’t imagine what these heat waves will be like in the future,” University of Georgia meteorologist Marshall Shepherd told USA TODAY.

Temperatures in the U.S. could rise 3-12 degrees by the end of the century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. With every increase, scientists say extreme temperatures and heat waves will have a brutal impact on daily life, human health, the workforce and transportation.  


Heat waves that used to happen every 10 years already happen three times more often, said Claudia Tebaldi, an earth scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington. If the global average temperature rises to 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures – forecast to happen over the next 10-15 years – those heat waves could occur four times more often

More concerning: Increases in the most intense heat waves over that time period. She said heat waves that once occurred every 50 years are five times more frequent now and will become “almost nine times more frequent.” 


Knowing which people in your life are more likely to be vulnerable to heat stress can help you better support them when rising temperatures pose a danger to their health.

Who’s particularly at risk?

People who aren’t acclimatized to the heat because they are from cooler regions or spend little time outdoors; infants, especially newborns; people in their 60s and older; outdoor workers with little control over their working hours; those with certain health conditions or medication regimens that limit the body’s ability to regulate temperature; and for a variety of reasons, people living in poverty (for example, they have a higher likelihood of chronic health conditions or a lack of air conditioning).

Just as more cities are preparing plans for dealing with extreme heat, loved ones and neighbors can help each other develop their own individual plans.

This could start by ensuring that people are receiving heat alerts in the most useful language, whether these alerts are linked to social mediaweather bulletins or other sources of information. This planning could also involve periodic checks of any air conditioners to ensure they’re working properly.

You can even map out the cool and warm zones in someone’s home. Kenny advises helping at-risk people limit the use of areas of their homes that are most exposed to the sun. Even putting blankets over the windows in the hottest rooms can be helpful.

Keeping spray bottles on hand — for misting the skin — can help keep someone’s body temperature in check. And making sure that prepared food is available means that the stove doesn’t need to be turned on.

It can be awkward to run through disaster scenarios with an acquaintance, but it’s useful to spark conversations about heat stress, as not everyone is aware of the symptoms or the risks.

Health problems may start with relatively mild cramping, as well as muscle spasms brought on by strenuous activity in the heat.

Heat exhaustion is more common. It can include nausea, vomiting, cool or clammy skin, faintness or dizziness, and a quick but weak pulse.

These symptoms intensify with heatstroke: The pulse tends to become stronger, the skin gets redder and the faintness can turn into confusion or loss of consciousness. You can also keep an eye out for headaches and a temperature above 103 F.


3 Responses to “Heat Waves Are the New Normal”

  1. Glen Koehler Says:

    Peter – Thanks for the great work…. but…
    RE “If the global average temperature rises to 2.7 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures – forecast to happen over the next 10-15 years ”

    Wrong. Way wrong. Not even close wrong. Please correct. The reality is already worse than bad. We need accurate information and scientific credibility to get social cohesion for the massive efforts needed to turn this battleship around. Erroneous inflated claims weaken that credibility.

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