Does the temperature you feel rise significantly faster than the thermometer? Sweaty Texas can attest to that

A muggy summer? In Texas, this is not unusual. So try to discuss with a resident the 1.5°C increase in global average temperature due to global warming accelerated by human activities, and you will laugh in your face. Unless…

Based on the analysis of Texas weather data during the months of June, July and August 2023, a new study published March 15, 2024 in the journal Environmental Research Letters highlighted a problem related to communicating the dangers to the public. of the increase in temperatures.

In fact, according to its author David Romps, an atmospheric physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, the thermometer alone does not accurately reflect the thermal stress that affects humans. Even the perceived temperature or “heat index”, which takes into account relative humidity and therefore the ability to cool down through sweat, would give too low an estimate of heat stress.

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Global warming affects the interaction between humidity and temperature

The wet bulb temperature is what a thermometer measures when covered with a damp cloth, which helps account for the cooling effects of sweat. “The heat index is very similar to the wet bulb index, but it adds the human metabolic heat that the thermometer does not take into account.the researcher details in a press release.

Back in 2022, this scientist co-authored a previous article exposing the inaccuracy of calculations made by most government agencies regarding the extreme temperatures and humidity we experience today. At the risk, for the public, of underestimating the probability of suffering from hyperthermia (heat stroke), or even dying from it.

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For decades, the nation’s leading weather forecaster, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service, has grappled with a lack of calculated values ​​for extreme heat and humidity: the heat index (heat index) was defined in 1979, extrapolating the unknown from known values.

However, through his work, David Romps explains that global warming affects the interaction between humidity and temperature. While in the past relative humidity tended to decrease as temperature increased, allowing the body to sweat more and therefore cool down, with climate change, on the other hand, relative humidity remains approximately constant as the temperature rises, reducing the effectiveness of sweating in cooling the body. body.

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Houston, we have a problem: it felt 75°C at the airport!

The focus on Texas is revealing. While temperatures peaked at different places and times across the state last summer, one place in particular, Houston’s Ellington Airport, stood out: On July 23, 2023, the study estimates the heat index was of 75°C, including 6°C due to global warming.

So what to do? “To me, the most obvious thing is to stop further warming, because the situation will not improve unless we stop burning fossil fuels.”defends Professor Romps (press release). “That is the number one message, without a doubt.”

The researcher also advises those who are in extreme heat situations and who do not have access to air conditioning, “Use shadow and water as friends”. “You can cover yourself with water. Take a damp cloth, run it under the tap, wet your skin and stand in front of a fan”he recommends. “As long as you drink enough water and can keep your skin moist in front of the fan, you’re doing something for your health.”

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Texas is not an isolated case. Last week, Arizona’s most populous county, which covers most of the city of Phoenix, reported that heat-related deaths increased 50% last year compared to 2022, from 425 in 2022 to 645 in 2023. (Associated Press, cited in the press release.) .

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