How hot is too hot? What you need to know about wet bulb temperatures, an increasing danger in extreme heat.

The persistent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest has been blamed for hundreds of deaths in Oregon, Washington and Canada.

It’s a scenario that experts say will soon become all too common: As temperatures continue to rise, so will the death toll – potentially by the tens of thousands.

“By the middle of the century, we anticipate a pretty significant additional load of extreme heat and public health somewhere in the vicinity of around 10,000 more deaths,” said Dr Vijay Limaye, climate and climate scientist. health at the Natural Resources Defense Council, United States. TODAY.

Heat is already the deadliest weather hazard, killing about 1,300 Americans each year, Limaye said, and humid temperatures – an underestimated health outcome for decades – have increasingly become one of the most deadly culprits. Wet bulb conditions occur when it is too hot and humid for a human’s sweat to evaporate, especially at 95 degrees Fahrenheit and 95% relative humidity.

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A thermometer shows an official temperature at Death Valley National Park in California on July 11, 2021.

But serious impacts can even occur at 79 degrees wet bulb. When this happens, “your body’s natural cooling mechanisms can’t work,” Limaye said.

In other words, when humid temperatures are high, there is so much moisture in the air that sweating becomes ineffective in removing excess heat from the body, according to Colin Raymond, a researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

“At some point, maybe after six hours or more, it will lead to organ failure and death in the absence of access to artificial cooling,” he told the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. .

LOOK: Record-breaking heat prompts people to visit Death Valley

Extreme humidity has more than doubled in frequency since 1979, Limaye said. He specifically pointed to a study written by Raymond last year: Although climate models predicted these extreme temperatures by the middle of the 21st century, they have already occurred in places like India, Pakistan, Gulf of Mexico and even California.

Hazardous weather risks “are expected to dramatically worsen the already terrible enough burden of extreme heat on health,” Limaye said.

“We’re getting to the point where even in dry conditions we risk having potentially uninhabitable parts of the world – just a little too hot for people to be outside for work or travel,” he said. added.

The sun shines behind the Space Needle in Seattle on June 28, 2021.

The sun shines behind the Space Needle in Seattle on June 28, 2021.

In the absence of wind and sunny skies, an area with 50% humidity will reach an unliveable wet bulb temperature of around 109, according to an article from MIT. In dry air, temperatures will become unbearable above 130 degrees – the temperature reached earlier this month in Death Valley, California.

Experts like Limaye are certain that the increasing frequency of heat waves in general – and the deaths that accompany them – are caused by man-made climate change.

The deadly and record-breaking heat wave in parts of the western United States and Canada that began in late June and continued into July would have been “virtually impossible” without the influence of climate change, according to the report. a recent study.

Every heat wave that occurs today, in fact, is made more likely and more intense by climate change, according to the study.

“If we keep letting climate change get worse from year to year, what sort of health situation could we be facing, say, in the middle of the century around 2050? asked Limaye.

Contribution: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Heat waves are aggravated by humid temperatures. Here’s how.


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