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This Heat Wave Could Seem Normal By Midcentury

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea This Heat Wave Could Seem Normal By Midcentury
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Central Ohio is experiencing a severe heat wave today and into this weekend, and it may be a sign of things to come. The National Weather Service office in Wilmington has issued an excessive heat warning effective until 8 p.m. on Saturday and warns of temperatures in the mid-90s and heat index values of 100 to 105 degrees. According to the NWS, “heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other heat related illnesses will be possible, especially if you spend a significant amount of time outdoors, or are involved in any strenuous outdoor activity. The cumulative impacts of heat on the human body can be significant when consecutive days of excessive heat occur.”

Perhaps it’s fitting that this heat wave strikes the same month as two studies are released, analyzing the dire consequences of extreme temperatures on our cities if the climate crisis is not addressed by midcentury. The first, published in the science journal PLOS One, studied “the extent to which the iconic cities around the world are likely to shift in response to climate change.”

“Even under an optimistic climate scenario, we found that 77 percent of future cities are very likely to experience a climate that is closer to that of another existing city than to its own current climate,” says the study. “In addition, 22 percent of cities will experience climate conditions that are not currently experienced by any existing major cities.”

The Crowther Lab in Switzerland, which participated in the study, developed an interactive map illustrating how cities around the world will change with the climate. According to the map, Columbus in 2050 can expect to have the climate of present-day Louisville, with the maximum temperature of the warmest month increasing by 5.6 °C, “resulting in a mean annual temperature change of 3.1 °C.”

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, aptly titled “Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days,” utilizes a similar map feature to break down the different temperature impacts of climate action or inaction for every county in the country. If we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the report says that by midcentury Franklin County will experience an average of 25 days a year with a heat index above 100 °F, including 11 days with a heat index above 105°F.

Taking immediate and rapid action on climate change, however, would limit Franklin County to an average of average of 17 days per year with a heat index above 100 °F, including 7 days with a heat index above 105 °F.

The danger of excessive heat is examined by the Columbus Climate Adaptation Plan released in December of last year. The plan reports that “From 1951 to 2012, the annual average temperature for Columbus warmed by 2.3°F, which was faster than both the national and global rates. This trend is expected to continue, with annual average temperatures projected to rise by an additional 3 to 5 °F by mid-century.”

The CCAP provides four recommendations for how the city can respond to excessive heat in the midst of the climate crisis; two that the plan deems “Necessary” and two it calls “Aspirational.”

It is necessary, the plan says, for Columbus to “establish a larger, better coordinated, and more responsive network of cooling centers and draft clear guidelines for network members.” The city must also “implement educational campaign, health advisories, and best practices for time spent outdoors in extreme heat.”

But if Columbus wants to go above and beyond in its response to the crisis, the plan recommends that city planning to reduce the “urban heat island” effect by increasing vegetation and tree coverage throughout the city, and by “utilizing reflective and permeable materials on new or rehabilitated roofs and paved surfaces.” These strategies would prevent heat from being absorbed by the city’s infrastructure. The plan also recommends enhancing programs to “distribute fans, air conditioners, and water to vulnerable populations.”

In the meantime, the National Weather Service recommends several precautionary measures to deal with the current heat wave; wear light clothes, drink plenty of water, and spend more time in air conditioned or well-ventilated places. Also, “friends, relatives, or neighbors should check on the elderly and people with chronic ailments, who are usually the first to suffer from heat-related illness.”

The climate crisis is here, Columbus, and it’s time to look after one another.

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