Wildfires, drought, and triple-digit temperatures are burning up close to half of the United States—but that’s not the most terrifying news.
“As bad as it might seem today,” University of Michigan climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck worries, “this is about as good as it’s going to get if we don’t get global warming under control.”
You mean it could get worse?
It’s already really bad. An area of high atmosphere pressure known as a heat dome is propelling temperatures as much as 30 degrees above normal, and not just in places like Death Valley or the Mojave Desert. Doctors in Arizona and Nevada have warned residents that touching pavement could cause third-degree burns. Temperatures are reaching the point where bottoms of flip-flops could melt onto sidewalks.
As for your favorite foods? If they’re grown in California’s Central Valley, where fruits and vegetables feed a good 25% of Americans, they’re at risk. “Heat means the end of cherry season,” said orchardist Michael Harris. Another grower, Kou Her is simply trying to protect tomatoes. “I am terrified,” he said. “I’ve never experienced three days of 110 before.”
Even if the crops can be kept alive, what about the farmworkers who harvest them? Eighteen-year-old Luz Cruz battles potential heat stroke every time she heads out into the fields to pick grapes in 115-degree temperatures. “I’d never experienced anything like that,” she told The Washington Post. “My head hurt and I was gasping,” she said.
High temperatures create drought, and drought creates “kindling”—a lot of kindling. Right now, wildfires threaten Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, and Idaho because it’s so darn dry there. Last spring, Idaho experienced its second-driest spring in the last 126 years, a situation that now has firefighters in the state on high alert. The Cold Creek fire near Pocatello has already burned through 2,500 acres and burned down two homes.
“One of the biggest ways climate change is affecting humans is by loading the weather dice against us. Extreme weather events occur naturally; but on a warmer planet many of these events are getting bigger, stronger, and more damaging,” Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University and the Nature Conservancy, also told the Post. “They’re affecting our health, the safety of our homes, the economy, and more.”
The National Weather Service agrees. “This level of heat, and especially the duration of the heat, is dangerous to all population groups and steps should be taken to mitigate risk to heat exposure.”
Here’s 8 ways to help your family beat the heat:
- Don’t leave children—even those who are asleep—in cars. It’s never a good idea to leave kids unattended in a vehicle, but especially not during a hot summer day. Even if the windows are cracked, interior temperatures can get high enough to put babies and toddlers at risk. The Centers for Disease Control suggests drivers put a stuffed animal in the front to remind them that a child is in the back.
- Stay cool—and limit everyone’s outdoor activities to the coolest hours. Early morning and evening are generally cooler than the hours of 10 AM–7 PM. Avoid physical exertion during the hottest parts of the day. Meanwhile, stay in an air-conditioned place as much as possible: your home, a shopping mall, a public library, a community cooling center or heat-relief shelter.
- Don’t overdress & carry a “sunbrella.” Wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing. When outside, carry an umbrella you can use to create some portable shade as you walk. Wear a hat with a visor to keep the sun off your face.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Heavy sweating removes important salt and minerals from the body. Stay hydrated but avoid sugary and alcoholic drinks, which the CDC says could actually cause you to lose more body fluid.
- Be on the look-out for heat stroke. Headache, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps, and vomiting could all indicate a heat-related illness. Move to a cool place as quickly as possible and call 911 right away.
- Batch trips to reduce driving. Less traffic will also improve local air quality.
- Turn the AC to 78 or even 80 degrees, and use room fans. When it’s hot outside, the temptation is to turn the AC as low as possible. But if it’s 100 degrees outside, 80 degrees inside will feel plenty cool. Room fans use far less energy while increasing comfort levels significantly.
- Run appliances like dishwashers and clothes washers and dryers at night. Utilities in California and Texas are already asking customers to cycle down their AC and run major appliances at night to reduce the need to produce and burn so much energy during the hottest parts of the day.