Extreme Heat Waves Plague US and Countries Around the World
Scorching temperatures have struck numerous regions across the United States and around the world, breaking long standing records and drawing increased attention to the earth’s rising climate. From coast to coast, cities are grappling with relentless heat waves that have not only disrupted daily life but also posed severe health risks to millions of people.
The United States, known for its diverse climate patterns, has witnessed an onslaught of record-breaking temperatures that have left communities reeling. Southwestern states have been hit particularly hard, with California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas experiencing prolonged periods of intense heat. On July 18, Phoenix, Arizona broke a previous heat record set in 1974 with 19 consecutive days measured above 110F – and more hot days to be expected.
“We see people passing out from full-blown heat stroke with a core body temperature of 104 degrees,” said co-director of the emergency department at the Tucson Medical Center Dr. Jerald Moser to the New York Times.
Across the US, cities are grappling with the ramifications of these extreme weather events. Current infrastructure strains under the pressure as power grids struggle to cope with heightened energy demands, risking widespread blackouts. Additionally, droughts continue a holding pattern in much of the Great Plains and the Midwest, prolonging strain on agriculture.
It’s “pretty miserable when you don’t have any recovery overnight,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Salerno when speaking with TIME.
Extreme Weather Outside of the US
The crisis extends far beyond the borders of the United States, as countries worldwide grapple with their own extreme weather conditions. Throughout much of the Mediterranean, soaring temperatures have threatened valued tourist destinations, including historic sites and picturesque landscapes, which are now under the imminent threat of wildfires and posing severe health risks for tourists and locals alike.
In Italy, nearly all major Italian cities are on a red heat alert, with daytime temperatures regularly exceeding 40C (104F), nearing previous records. Italy’s Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said tourists must proceed with caution when visiting Rome’s famous attractions and suggested people remain indoors during the heat of the day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“Going to the Colosseum when it is 43C (109.4F) is not advisable, especially for an elderly person,” said Schillaci.
The intensity of the heatwaves has triggered widespread wildfires across Greece and the Swiss Alps, leading to the evacuations of thousands.
Northern Europeans are not excluded from the heat wave. Countries such as Switzerland, Norway, and Finland are experiencing the highest relative increase in temperature.
Many homes and buildings in northern European countries are designed for colder weather intended to keep heat inside. During heat waves such as the ones currently plaguing much of Europe, these structures further exacerbate the problem when searching for a shaded place to cool down.
“The extreme weather – an increasingly frequent occurrence in our warming climate – is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy and water supplies. This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply as possible,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.
The Future of the Earth’s Climate
Many global leaders agree that the earth’s rising climate demands immediate action, believing that governments, policymakers, and communities should prioritize sustainable practices, renewable energy sources, and stringent emissions reduction targets to mitigate the impact of rising temperatures.
According to preliminary figures from the World Meteorological Organization, June 2023 saw the warmest global average temperature on record, with that heat continuing into July.
“This is just the beginning. This is what the climate system can do at just 1.2 degrees [Celsius] warming,” said Simon Lewis, professor of Global Change Science at the University College London during an interview with CNBC.
“Current policies globally have us hitting 2.7 degrees [Celsius] warming by 2100. That’s truly terrifying,” Lewis added.
The Impact of Prolonged Heat on an Individual
Heat-related illnesses and deaths have surged as vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, struggle to cope with the extreme conditions. Hospitals have seen a spike in admissions due to heat-related exhaustion and heatstroke, stretching medical resources to their limits. Urgent calls for enhanced public health measures and community support systems have become imperative to prevent further casualties.
The WMO has stated that “response strategies and communication plans are needed to target both the general population and vulnerable groups such as older adults or outside workers; displaced and marginalized populations” and reminds people through heat-health warnings that hydration, shade and rest are imperative factors when combating extreme summer heat.