Taking Our Temperature

Things Are Heating Up!

Global warming means more than just summer heat waves. Buildings and roads warm up quickly and hold heat for a long time. So rising temperatures turn cities and towns into real "hot spots." How does that affect our health?

Summer in the city can be deadly.
Scientist
During a normal year, about 175 die from heat-related ailments. But that number soars during heat waves.

1980: Severe summer heat killed some 1,250 people in the US.
1995: More than 700 people perished during a Chicago heat wave.

The problem afflicts other nations too. Heat waves in London can mean 15 percent more deaths than usual during summertime.

1998 (an El Niño year): A heat wave in India lasted 27 days, killing 1,300 people.

Heat waves can turn summers into bummers. Each day seems hotter than the day before, and we begin to wonder whether it will ever cool off. With Glossary Link global warming, we'll be sweating through more and more hot times.

click to enlarge image
Like environmental pimples, its, hot spots pockmark this satel<span>lite</span> image of Sacramento, California. According to NASA, the hot spots (red and white) are about 25-45 degrees warmer than the dark areas (green or blue) where trees and shrubs grow.
Like environmental pimples, hot spots pockmark this satellite image of Sacramento, California. According to NASA, the hot spots (red and white) are about 25-45 degrees warmer than the dark areas (green or blue) where trees and shrubs grow.

Heat waves can hit almost anywhere, but they're particularly severe in and around cities. That's no accident. Consider the key ingredients of cities and towns. There are buildings and more buildings, roads and more roads, sidewalks and more sidewalks.

Now think about the amount of asphalt, brick, concrete, and stone used to construct all those buildings, roads, and sidewalks. These materials are heavy and Glossary Link dense. So they heat up quickly—and cool down slowly. As a result, Glossary Link urban areas turn into "heat islands" that are far warmer than fields or forests would be, even in the same location. This is called the Glossary Link urban heat island effect.

 

Temperatures soar in city centers, where buildings and roads retain heat. Creating parks, planting trees, and painting roofs white can help cool things down.

 

Urban Heat Island Profile. Source: EPA
Temperatures soar in city centers, where buildings and roads retain heat. Creating parks, planting trees, and painting roofs white can help cool things down.
Source: Environmental Protection Agency

 

HOT SPOTS AND HEALTH RISKS

Between global warming and the urban island heat effect, cities are truly becoming the hot spots they've always claimed to be. But this kind of heat isn't so hot. It can ruin your day, your week, your vacation—or your health.

You've probably heard of the most common health problems related to heat waves: Glossary Link heat exhaustion and Glossary Link heatstroke. Both can be serious and—if untreated—even deadly.

 

health_icon How can you stay healthy in the heat?

science_icon Will winters be warmer too?

 

 

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