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Heatwave US: What should People and Companies Do?
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Blog...Heatwave US: What should People and Companies Do?

Heatwave US: What should People and Companies Do?

Business
ESG
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Given the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves, how can citizens and companies in the US effectively cope?
Business
2024-07-11T00:00:00.000Z
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The US is no stranger to extreme weather, but recent years have seen significant shifts in patterns, with 2024 experiencing record-breaking temperatures. As heatwaves become more frequent and intense, there is growing concern about how citizens and companies, will manage these increasing temperatures.

This article explores the implications of rising temperatures and offers practical advice for individuals and businesses to cope with the challenges of extreme heat.

👉 Given the increasing frequency and intensity of heatwaves, how can citizens and companies in the US effectively cope?

What is a heatwave?

A heatwave (also written as heat wave), is an extended period of excessively hot weather, which may be accompanied by high humidity, especially in oceanic climate countries. It occurs when a high-pressure system stalls over an area, trapping warm air near the surface and preventing cooler air from entering. This system acts like a dome, leading to clear skies and prolonged periods of sunshine, which further elevate temperatures.

Heatwaves can cause severe health risks, infrastructure strain, and environmental impacts, making them significant weather events that require careful monitoring and response.

man wiping sweat from his face with towel

US Heatwaves: What's happening?

The summer of 2024 has been unprecedented, with numerous record-breaking temperatures across the US. Las Vegas for example surpassed its previous record of four consecutive days over 115°F (46.1°C), reaching an all-time high of 120°F (48.8°C) on July 7, 2024. This heatwave has broken records across the western US, further stoking concerns over the impacts of the climate crisis.

The extreme heatwave affecting the western US has placed more than 161 million people under heat alerts, with at least 18 heat-related deaths reported. In Las Vegas, this July has been the hottest in 15 years, with local residents describing the heat as "oppressively hot".

In addition to Las Vegas, other regions have also faced record-breaking temperatures. For example, Death Valley hit a dangerous 129°F (53.9°C) on July 7, resulting in the death of a motorcyclist due to heat exposure. Phoenix recorded its all-time high of 120°F (48.9°C), and the northwestern states of Oregon and Washington saw temperatures topping 103°F (39.4°C) and 105°F (40.5°C), respectively.

Typical summer temperatures in the US vary widely, but extreme heatwaves with temperatures exceeding 100°F (37.8°C) have become more common. The National Weather Service (NWS) declares a heatwave when temperatures exceed 90°F (32.2°C) for three or more days in a row.

Recent years have seen a shift, with extended periods of extreme heat replacing the usual weather patterns. This year summer temperatures have been significantly above average, raising concerns about public health and the impact on infrastructure and nature. This heatwave has also led to increased wildfire activity, particularly in California and Oregon, where firefighters are battling numerous blazes fueled by dry and hot conditions.

In Texas, the impact of extreme heat has been exacerbated by power outages following Hurricane Beryl, with over a million people left without power and the city of Houston particularly hard-hit. President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration, emphasizing the high rate of deaths from extreme heat in the US, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates at about 1,220 a year.

These unprecedented temperatures and their widespread impact underscore the growing urgency of addressing the climate crisis. As the frequency and intensity of heatwaves increase, so too does the need for comprehensive strategies to mitigate their effects on public health, infrastructure, and the environment.

little girl sitting on the beach

The role of climate change

The US is now experiencing the tangible effects of climate change. Periods of extreme heat, hurricanes, tornados, and other extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, prompting the US Government to consider how to prepare for these impacts.

❗️ The ongoing rise in global temperatures is alarming, with predictions that global surface temperatures could increase by up to 3°C in the coming years. The extreme heat poses risks not only to public health but also to historical landmarks and natural landscapes.

Moreover, the summer of 2024 has illustrated the increasing unpredictability of the weather, with extreme heatwaves, wildfires, and even hurricanes like Hurricane Beryl, the earliest Category 5 storm on record. This variability underscores the complexity of climate patterns - summers can now be a mix of prolonged heatwaves, devastating wildfires, and powerful hurricanes all within the space of a month!

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What causes a heatwave?

A heatwave occurs when a high-pressure system stalls over an area, trapping warm air near the surface. This high-pressure system acts as a dome, preventing cooler air from entering and hot air from escaping. As the sun heats the ground, the trapped warm air gets progressively hotter. This lack of air movement also prevents cloud formation, leading to clear skies and prolonged periods of sunshine, which further elevates temperatures.

In the US, the Polar Front Jet Stream plays a significant role in weather patterns, especially in mid-latitude regions. The jet stream is a fast-flowing ribbon of air in the upper atmosphere that moves from west to east. It forms waves with troughs (low-pressure areas) and ridges (high-pressure areas). When these waves become amplified, the high-pressure systems can become stationary, causing prolonged periods of heat.

Heatwave Mechanisms

  • High-Pressure Systems: These systems compress the air, causing it to warm up. The descending air suppresses convection and prevents cloud formation, leading to more solar radiation reaching the ground.
  • Jet Stream Patterns: The jet stream's configuration can create "blocking patterns" where high-pressure ridges get stuck over a region, leading to extended heatwaves.
  • Ground Heating: With clear skies and intense sunlight, the ground heats up significantly, which in turn, heats the air above it. Urban areas can experience even higher temperatures due to the heat island effect, where concrete and asphalt absorb and retain heat.
  • Heat Index: During a heatwave, the perceived temperature can be even higher than the actual air temperature due to the heat index, which combines air temperature and humidity to reflect how hot it feels to humans. High humidity levels impede the evaporation of sweat, which is the body’s natural cooling mechanism. As a result, the body retains more heat, increasing the risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The heat index is a crucial metric for assessing the potential impact of a heatwave on public health, as it provides a more accurate measure of the human experience of heat and guides appropriate safety measures and responses.
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Why does Climate Change Make Heatwaves Worse?

Our changing climate exacerbates heatwaves by increasing the baseline temperatures. Warmer global temperatures mean that heatwaves start from a higher starting point, making them more intense and frequent. Studies have shown that the likelihood of heatwaves has increased significantly due to human-induced climate change. The increased frequency and severity of heatwaves are linked to the higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which trap more heat and disrupt typical weather patterns.

👉 Did you know? According to the European Climate Service Copernicus, globally 2023 was the hottest year on record with temperatures close to 1.5°C.

💡 Heatwaves are primarily caused by stationary high-pressure systems that trap hot air, with the jet stream playing a crucial role in their formation and duration. Climate change further amplifies these events, leading to more frequent and severe heatwaves.

Increasing US Heatwaves

Recent studies have shown that human-caused climate change is a significant factor in the increasing frequency and severity of heatwaves in the US.

What the Data Says:

Heatwave Frequency and Length: Heatwaves are occurring more often than they used to in major cities across the United States. According to EPA (the US Environmental Protection Agency), their frequency has increased steadily from an average of two heatwaves per year during the 1960s to more than six per year during the 2010s and 2020s. The average heatwave season across 50 major cities is now 49 days longer than it was in the 1960s. Of the 50 metropolitan areas studied by the US Global Change Research Program, 46 experienced a statistically significant increase in heatwave frequency between the 1960s and 2020s​.

Heatwave Intensity: Heatwaves have become more intense over time. During the 1960s, the average heatwave in major US urban areas was about 2.0°F above the local percentile threshold. During the 2020s, the average heatwave has been about 2.5°F above the local threshold. This increase in intensity contributes to more severe impacts on public health and infrastructure.

Future Projections: If carbon emissions are not rapidly reduced, the consequences of climate change on extreme heat in the US could be worse than previously thought. Current models might underestimate the real impact, suggesting that the frequency of extreme heat events could increase even more than anticipated.

Impacts on the US

Vulnerable Groups: Certain demographics suffer more during heatwaves. Major cities and urban areas like Las Vegas experience intensified heat due to infrastructure that retains heat. Poorer communities often lack access to green spaces and water, exacerbating their exposure to heat. The elderly, people with chronic health conditions, and homeless individuals are also at higher risk from hot temperatures.

Infrastructure Challenges: US infrastructure, including homes, hospitals, and prisons, is often unsuitable for extreme heat. For example, railway tracks can buckle, and buildings designed to retain heat become uninhabitable. The increase in heatwaves and their intensity necessitates changes in building designs and materials to better cope with higher temperatures.

sunset with palm trees

How do heatwaves impact human health?

Heatwaves are not only detrimental to the environment but also pose significant threats to human health. Climate change has exacerbated this issue, making severe heatwaves more frequent, even in regions historically unaccustomed to extreme heat.

Health Issues Caused by Heatwaves

Heat Stroke: This occurs when the body can no longer regulate its temperature, leading to dangerously high body temperatures. Symptoms include confusion, loss of consciousness, and seizures. Heat stroke can be fatal without prompt medical intervention.

Heat Exhaustion: Symptoms include heavy sweating, weakness, dizziness, nausea, and headaches. If left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke​.

Cardiovascular Issues: Extreme heat can strain the heart and blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. High temperatures cause the body to work harder to cool itself, which can exacerbate underlying cardiovascular conditions.

Respiratory Problems: Higher temperatures can increase the concentration of harmful air pollutants, exacerbating respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Wildfire smoke, often accompanying heatwaves, further deteriorates air quality and respiratory health.

Cumulative Heat Impact

Heat accumulates in the body over time, increasing the risk of severe health issues as exposure continues. Prolonged heatwaves can lead to higher rates of heat-related illnesses and deaths. For example, during the recent heatwave on the West Coast of the US, daily emergency department admissions for heat-related illnesses doubled within a few days​.

Vulnerable Populations

Heatwaves are often referred to as "silent killers" due to their ability to cause widespread harm without immediate, visible effects. Vulnerable populations include:

  • Elderly Individuals: Older adults are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses due to their bodies' reduced ability to regulate temperature.
  • Individuals with Chronic Illnesses: People with heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions are at higher risk.
  • Outdoor Workers: Those who work outdoors, such as construction workers and farmers, face increased exposure to extreme heat.
  • Low-Income Communities: These communities often lack access to adequate cooling resources, such as air conditioning and green spaces​.
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How do heatwaves impact businesses?

Heatwaves can significantly affect businesses across various sectors in the US, with the agriculture sector being one of the most impacted.

Operational Disruptions:

  • Infrastructure Strain: High temperatures can cause physical damage to infrastructure, such as buckling railway tracks and road surfaces, leading to transportation delays and increased maintenance costs.
  • Energy Demand: Increased use of air conditioning and cooling systems can strain the power grid, leading to potential blackouts and higher operational costs.

Agriculture Sector:

  • Crop Health and Yield: Extended periods of severe heat can severely affect crop health and yield. Heatwaves increase the risk of drought and water scarcity, making it difficult for farmers to irrigate their fields adequately.
  • Worker Productivity: Outdoor workers are at an increased risk of heat exhaustion, reducing productivity. This affects not only planting and harvesting but also other outdoor summer businesses, which cannot operate at full capacity during heatwaves.

Employee Health and Productivity:

  • Indoor Workspaces: Even businesses that operate indoors can be affected. Although the majority of buildings (87%) in the US have some form of air conditioning, 13% lack an effective means of cooling, making workspaces uncomfortable and reducing productivity.

Supply Chain Disruptions:

  • Transportation Delays: Heatwaves can cause delays in transportation networks, affecting the timely delivery of goods and materials.
  • Perishable Goods: Businesses that rely on the transportation of perishable goods may face increased spoilage rates, leading to financial losses.
open plan office

How can a company protect both its business and employees during a heatwave?

Employers can't change the temperature outside, but they can take steps to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees during a heatwave.

Monitor Employee Comfort and Health:

  • Regularly assess the workplace environment to ensure it is comfortable.
  • Pay special attention to high-risk individuals, such as pregnant employees, those with underlying health conditions, or those taking medications affecting temperature regulation to protect them from the effects of dangerous heat.

Workplace Environment:

  • Ensure a strong supply of water and air conditioning in the office.
  • Relax dress codes to allow employees to wear lighter, more comfortable clothing during extreme heat.

Flexible Working Arrangements:

  • Allow employees to work remotely to avoid the stress of commuting in overheated public transport.
  • Implement flexible working hours to enable employees to travel during cooler parts of the day.

Heat Safety Protocols:

  • Educate employees about the signs of heat-related illnesses and provide training on how to respond.
  • Encourage frequent breaks, especially for outdoor workers, and ensure shaded or air-conditioned rest areas.

By proactively implementing these measures, companies can protect their business operations and ensure the health and productivity of their employees during heatwaves.

Heatwave Impacts and Mitigation Strategies for Businesses Across Different Sectors:

Tips for managing your well-being during a heatwave

Being prepared is key when it comes to heatwaves. Here are some important and effective measures to protect your health and lessen discomfort:

Look Out for One Another:

  • Check on elderly neighbors, friends, and family members with underlying conditions, especially those living alone.
  • Stay connected with others through texts or calls to ensure mutual support.

Keep Your Home Cool:

  • Block direct sunlight by closing windows and using blinds or curtains to maintain a moderate indoor temperature.

Avoid Exercise:

  • Refrain from strenuous activities to prevent dehydration and heat-related health issues like heat exhaustion.

Stay Indoors:

  • Stay inside with air conditioning or central cooling. If you must go outside, limit exposure during peak sun hours (11 AM to 3 PM) and use sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat.

Use AC or a Fan:

  • Use air conditioning or fans to cool your home, but avoid using fans if temperatures exceed 35°C as they can exacerbate heat.

Hydrate:

  • Drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks, which can dehydrate you.

Prepare:

  • Check long-range forecasts available through your national weather service and prepare for heatwaves by ensuring your fridge, freezer, and air conditioners are functioning.
  • In the US, you can receive heat warning messages directly to your phone through the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system. These alerts are automatically sent to WEA-capable phones during emergencies, so no signup is required.
  • Stock up on food, medicine, and drinking water, and install blinds or shutters to keep your home cool.

By following these tips, you can better manage your well-being and stay safe during heatwaves.

New York skyline at sunset

Can we prevent heatwaves?

To mitigate the severity and frequency of heatwaves, it is essential to address the root cause: global warming. Reducing global temperature rises is crucial. Without significant efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, heatwaves will become more frequent and intense, leading to severe economic, human, and environmental impacts.

Reducing emissions is key, which involves transitioning to renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and implementing sustainable practices in industries and transportation. Adopting sustainable lifestyles is also vital, encouraging both the public and private sectors to adopt eco-friendly habits, such as reducing waste and conserving water and energy.

Supporting climate policies that aim to reduce carbon footprints and promote sustainability is equally important. By making a concerted effort to reduce emissions and embrace sustainable practices, we can protect our planet and future generations from the worsening effects of heatwaves.

How Greenly Can Help Companies Reduce Emissions

To effectively combat climate change and its impacts, including heatwaves, companies need to take proactive steps in reducing their carbon footprint. Greenly offers a range of services designed to help businesses achieve this goal.

Lead in Climate Action:

  • Proactive Engagement: By integrating sustainable practices now, your business can lead in environmental stewardship and set the benchmark for your industry.

Carbon Management:

  • Measurement of GHG Emissions: Track Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions using advanced technology to gain an understanding of your carbon footprint.
  • Custom Action Plans: Develop tailored strategies with the help of our climate experts, focusing on key areas for improvement and implementing effective changes.

Decarbonising Your Supply Chain:

  • Engage Suppliers: Work with Greenly to transition to low-carbon options, achieving greater transparency and effectively managing Scope 3 emissions.
  • Sustainable Sourcing: Our initiatives help build greener partnerships and reduce emissions throughout your supply chain.

Intuitive and Seamless Platform:

  • User-Friendly Tools: Our platform streamlines the process of calculating and monitoring your carbon footprint. Greenly makes carbon assessment flow better, enabling your business to manage its environmental impact, meet ESG goals, and enhance sustainability.

Why Choose Greenly?: Greenly offers comprehensive support for your sustainability journey, from carbon measurement and custom action plans to supply chain decarbonisation and platform integration. With our help, your business can significantly reduce its environmental impact and achieve lasting sustainability.

Contact Greenly today to start leading the way in sustainability and build a greener future for your company.

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