How To Avoid Becoming a Victim of Global Warming

Extreme heat is the prediction for the weather in the Ojai Valley this July 4th and for the next few days, according to the National Weather Service. Cooling is expected on the weekend, but not before.

On Friday… the forecast calls for a few degrees of cooling in most
areas… but it will still be hot… with temperatures between 105 and
110 degrees in the Antelope Valley… and between 100 and 105 degrees
at lower elevations in the mountains. Even the warmest locations
in the valleys will likely have temperatures around 100 degrees
on Friday. More significant and widespread cooling is expected
across the area Saturday and Sunday.

Scientists studying global warming, such as Gerald Meehl, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who testified before Congress this spring, and Bill Patzert, of Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Lab,  predict (pdf) that global warming will bring us substantially longer and more intense heat waves.

Already, according to Patzert’s research, the "heat island effect" means that urbanized Souther California temperatures have risen substantially more than most of the nation’s — nearly two and a half degrees in our area since l950.

Some who see "The Bright Side of Global Warming" have argued that its risks are overstated, and point to a couple of scientific papers arguing that "Statistically and historically in the West…winters have posed a greater threat to humans than summers have."

This point of view was has been challenged by a huge study published (pdf) last fall by Mercedes Medina-Ramon of the Harvard School of Public Health. Medina-Ramon and her coauthors correlated weather data and mortality statistics for fifty U.S. cities from l989-2000, totaling nearly 7.8 million deaths. She focused on days of extreme heat and extreme cold, the 1% days at the far edges of the probability spectrum, and balanced the statistics for local conditions. (In Phoenix, for example, extremely hot days don’t even begin until well into the upper 90’s.)

As NPR’s ScienceFriday summarized:

Using eleven years of mortality and weather data from fifty U.S.
cities, [the study] found that in the past, mortality increased by 1.59
percent after two days of extreme cold; whereas in extreme hot weather,
mortality increased by 5.74 percent.

The study also found that a few particular groups are especially at risk, such as the elderly, the diabetic, black people, and the poorly-educated. (It should be noted that the authors suspect the last two risk factors point to poorer housing conditions, poorer health, and poorer access to health care, rather than any sort of biological vulnerability.)

The take-home message? In extreme heat conditions, pay closer attention to your body, and if you show symptoms of heat exhaustion or stroke (see this from the Centers for Disease Control) go to a cooling center or a hospital. (In the Ojai Valley, they are one and the same: the Community Hospital.)

Pay especially close attention to out-of-towners unaccustomed to our heat, and if you notice that you are having more trouble with heat than you did in the past, don’t dismiss that: you may be developing diabetes (as I did) or you may be getting older.  Medina-Ramon’s study found that the  strongest predictor of a likelihood of death could be found among the vulnerable who did not go to the hospital.

Take a hint: Don’t let yourself become a global warming victim!

(Photo from Venice Beach by Aqui-Ali, via Flickr licence: cross-posted at the Ojai Post.)

The_sun

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