By Leon F. Vinci
Vinci is a retired environmental epidemiologist. He lives in Roanoke.
Hot. With at least twenty-five straight days of ninety-plus degree temps in our area, something is NOT right. Roanoke has set a new record for the most consecutive days of 90 degrees or higher for a July. Moreover, much of the North American continent also is sweltering in the midst of a widespread heat wave.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that our climate is hotter than it should be. If these conditions persist, the new-normal for the Roanoke area will be equivalent to the regular temperatures of Jacksonville, Florida. I did not become a Roanoke resident to live in Floridian heat! I enjoy the Appalachian Trail, the nearby hills and vistas, and our lakes and waterways. Tropical-like heat is something we don’t need around here.
Over the last two decades, most noticeably in the last four years, temperatures and carbon-dioxide levels have risen dramatically on our planet. While humans deal with coronavirus, our Earth has its own immediate virus threat, and it is climate change. Levels of carbon dioxide are now at the level of 417 ppm (the highest monthly value ever attained on record). This means that the air we breathe is unhealthy, the earth is in trouble, and these concentrations are causing the world’s temperatures to elevate across the globe.
The combination of extreme heat and humidity leads to a range of negative human health impacts, including the potential for fatalities. Naturally, some question whether this heat wave is the result of human-caused climate change.
As validation, our local weather forecasters report that we are breaking temperature records across the Roanoke Valley. Further, the elevated global mean temperature resulting from greenhouse gas emissions has pushed us into a new climate reality where extreme heat events are more likely. And, if this intense heat isn’t enough, the higher atmospheric temperature has also boosted global evaporation. Drought conditions are becoming more frequent. With the increase in global atmospheric moisture content over the last several decades, a propensity for stronger heat indices is the result.
Metrics used to quantify the combined temperature and humidity impacts on humans, known as the heat index, is what makes a day feel like 110 degrees even if the thermometer shows 96 degrees – much the same way a wind chill feels colder than the mercury suggests.
With our area heat index hovering above 90 Fahrenheit for nearly the entire month thus far, it is critical to stay hydrated and remain indoors as much as possible. Many people who remain exposed to extreme heat develop health problems such as conditions called heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Their bodies can often no longer cope with the external environment around them and fatalities due to high-heat historically rise, especially if temperatures remain hot at night, people are kept from resting, or sleep is interfered with.
Remember to use common sense and proven public health-science protections against these hot conditions. Precautions to maintain personal health include urging citizens to keep hydrated (drink plenty of water), use light clothing, wear a hat if outdoors, stay out of the sun as much as possible, and check on your neighbors.