Why Record-Breaking Night Temperatures Are So Concerned


In 2006, a heat wave led to approximately 150 heat-related deaths in California. coroner reports. (had about 600 extreme deaths during this time, suggesting an even greater effect.)

What made this particular heat wave dangerous was the humidity at night, causing unusually high nighttime temperatures that trap heat and catch Californians off guard, said Tarik Benmarhnia, an environmental epidemiologist at the University of California, San Diego.

When cities are affected by the extreme heat, poor communities tend to be the most vulnerable, he said. Heat-related deaths and hospitalizations in the 2006 California heat wave were higher in zip codes with less air conditioning. Homes with the highest income more than three times are more likely to use central air conditioning compared to those with the lowest income.

Some cities are trying to mitigate the effects of heat waves by opening cooling centers, controlling vulnerable people, and providing bottled water. But these are usually done during the day.

“The really problem is night time,” said Rupa Basu, chief of weather and climate epidemiology at CalEPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Temperatures have risen recently in parts of the Pacific Northwest about 30 degrees Fahrenheit above average, an extreme”would be nearly impossible without climate changeGeert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute.

As the temperature rises, the air can hold more moisture. Water vapor accounts for about 85 percent of the greenhouse effect, according to Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Water vapor does not cause initial warming, but there is a feedback loop: Higher temperatures increase the humidity in the air, and more moisture traps more heat on the floor surface like a blanket, leading to more warming.


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