Breakdown: Why extreme heat & humidity may become the norm

Breakdown: Why extreme heat & humidity may become the norm

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Researches have determined that as climate warms, the frequency of extreme heat and humidity could become the new normal across the United States. In this episode of the breakdown, we dive into the research done to show the rise in heat and humidity through the years.

Heat is one of the deadliest forms of weather that we deal with across the county. Factor in high humidity and it could be a recipe for disaster, especially those who work outside. Researchers from Columbia University have found that humid heat extremes are becoming more frequent in the United States.

The wet bulb temperatures measure how heat, moisture and other factors affect the body in direct sunlight. Those at Climate Central explain that outdoor activities are nearly impossible when the wet bulb reaches 90 degrees Fahrenheit which is equal to a 132 degree heat index.

According to Climate Central, researchers analyzed the most extreme days by U.S. locations, based on wet bulb temperatures. Those researchers found that the humid extremes have doubled in frequency from 1980-1999 and 2000 to 2019.

Researchers found that those at most risk of this new “normal” are senior citizens and communities of color, along with outdoor workers along with those in agriculture and the military.

Researchers with Climate Central, believe that continued changes in climate could potentially lead to declines in labor productivity and continued worsening of both social and economic inequalities.

The factors leading to the rise in heat in humidity, according to Climate Central, are a rise in temperatures in a warming climate, causing heat and humidity to persist. A small shift in averages, explains Climate Central, could lead to a big change in extremes. A tend researches explain will only worsen unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

Add in the extreme heat and humidity on the rise across the country with the ongoing pandemic and it could hamper keeping people safe. Researchers fear the ongoing pandemic has closed cooling centers and have to come up with new ways to keep people safe from the heat.

Methodology used by Climate Central: Hourly wet bulb temperature data was collected by researchers from Raymond et al. (2020), using 474 contiguous U.S. weather stations for this analysis. For humid heat extremes in each location, the change in frequency was found by calculating the value that happened (on average) on 5% of days in the 1980s and 1990s, and then seeing how often that happened in the 2000s and 2010s.

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