An excess of wild weather happened simultaneously in separate locations worldwide in July. These wild weather events are getting more frequent and intense.
On 4 July, the earth had a new global average temperature. According to data from the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the global average temperatures reached 62.92 degrees Fahrenheit (17.18°C), leading many to wonder whether we are entering a new ominous climate change phase.
There were record-breaking heatwaves in the US and Europe. Europe’s extreme heat triggered wildfires in Greece in July.
China’s temperature reached a record-breaking 52.2°C on 16 July, and record-breaking temperatures have also descended in several Asian countries since April.
The Guardian reports that over 100 million Americans were under a heat warning or advisory in mid-July as record-breaking heat is expected to remain for several days. Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday, recorded its 19th consecutive day in which the daily high exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius), breaking its record of 18 days.
The World Meteorological Organisation, the U.N. agency that monitors weather and climate, warned that the intense heat gripping large parts of the northern hemisphere and causing this summer of extreme is becoming a “new normal” and would entail governments to step up their efforts to help society adapt to the series of extreme weather.
In the United States, this summer’s brutal heat unveils a sobering reality that local, state, and federal aid programmes and infrastructure to help people cool down are not in step with the new reality – prolonged and intense hot days, CNN reports.
Mark Wolfe, the executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, claims that there is no national plan to help lower-income families cope with higher temperatures as current policies are based on the past climate of shorter heatwaves and more temperate summers.
Wolfe calls for congressional funding to retrofit low-income homes for cooling, pay for energy-efficient A.C. units and insulation, and change the building codes requiring multifamily homes to provide cooling the same way as heating.
The article notes that underfunded energy assistance programmes and poorly designed urban areas place low-income, the elderly, and vulnerable Americans at the highest risk when temperatures soar. Although most low-income homes have cooling units, they cannot afford to use them.
Compared with higher-income families, low-income families pay three times more for their energy bills, equivalent to 8.6% of their income, with prices yet to hike this summer.
In the U.S., around 700 Americans die each year due to the heat, and more than 9000 are hospitalised, according to CDC. The number is more than any weather-related disaster.
However, government policies and assistance programmes, which still favour more funding for heating, do not view it equally with other disasters and emergencies.
For instance, the federal Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LHEAP) provides grants to help families pay for their heating and cooling bills. Still, the states use around 80% of the programme’s funding to help pay for families’ heating bills, leaving little for their cooling bills during the summer.
Wolfe said that the programmes were designed 40 years ago when summer temperatures were much cooler, saying that the government’s approach to cooling is much weaker than toward heating and calls for increased funding.
A study by the CDC published in July 2022 says cooling centres are a helpful strategy to reduce heat exposure when air conditioning is limited and urges the government to make it more accessible, particularly to the most vulnerable members of society.
According to the study, exposure to excessive heat increases as the planet warms, and some groups, like the elderly, are more vulnerable than others. Heat-related illness (HRI) in Arizona counties of Maricopa and Yuma have risen in the study’s period of 2010 – 2020, with higher hospitalisations in adults aged 65 and above.
However, some barriers inhibit people from using these cooling centres. Among them are the inability to bring pets and limited access to public transportation.
The study suggests that “public health departments can enhance communication campaigns to increase awareness of benefits and locations of cooling centres and open cooling centres in locations of high social vulnerability. This is to improve access to cooling centres. Cooling centre managers can increase hours of operation and provide multilingual communication materials. Local jurisdictions can also extend cooling centre access in locations such as libraries or enhance public-private partnerships with businesses to expand access during extreme heat events.”
In addition to cooling centres, providing more shade for residents and designing cool roofs and streets can protect people from extreme heat, the CNN article notes.
Cities are also sources of heat that increase air temperatures compared to nearby rural areas, a phenomenon known as the urban heat island (UHI) effect.
The differences in temperatures between urban and less developed rural areas affect how well the surfaces in each environment absorb the heat. Buildings and infrastructure are made of concrete, asphalt, steel, and brick that absorb heat.
Some cities are “lightening” streets, painting black asphalt streets, parking lots and dark roofs with more reflective white or grey coating to cool urban heat islands. These things can effectively lower temperatures, especially during the summer heat.
To cool urban heat islands, some cities are “lightening” streets, painting black asphalt streets, parking lots and dark roofs with more reflective white or grey coating, which can effectively lower temperatures, especially during the summer heat.
In cities, pavements and roofs comprise 60% of surfaces. Cities can create new buildings and surfaces to use or apply light or reflective materials to reflect sunlight and not absorb it.
Making surfaces impervious and planting trees and vegetation strategically can also mitigate heat. Trees can provide shade to buildings, parking lots, and streets. The article says Miami-Dade County has an initiative to cover 30% of the area with trees.
Gayle, D. (2023, July 5). Tuesday was world’s hottest day on record – breaking Monday’s record. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jul/05/tuesday-was-worlds-hottest-day-on-record-breaking-mondays-record
Meyersohn, N. (2023, July 20). We can’t air-condition our way out of America’s heat crisis. CNN Business. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2023/07/20/business/cooling-extreme-heat-policy-climate
Mallen E, Roach M, Fox L, et al. (2022). Extreme Heat Exposure: Access and Barriers to Cooling Centers — Maricopa and Yuma Counties, Arizona, 2010–2020. MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 71. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm7124a1
Oliver M. & Sainato, M. (2023, 16 July). Millions in U.S. under warnings as record heat expected to continue next week. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jul/16/us-extreme-weather-record-heat
Heatwaves, wildfires mark summer of extremes. (2023, 25 July). World Meteorological Organization. Retrieved from https://public.wmo.int/en/media/news/heatwaves-wildfires-mark-summer-of-extremes