Parts of the world are already too hot for humans thanks to climate change. In a new article by NewScientist, I learned of a different way of taking your temperature. It’s called “wet-bulb temperature” (TW), and it measures the heat and humidity taken from a thermometer covered in a water-soaked cloth. If the temperature is higher than 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit TW, the body is unable to cool itself by sweating. Lower levels can also be deadly — as was seen during the 2003 European heatwave that killed many people whose temperatures didn’t pass 28°C or 82.4°F TW.
A team of researchers from the US and the UK analyzed weather station data from around the world and discovered that the frequency of these wet-bulb temperatures between those ranges has doubled since 1979. Most of these frequency events happened in areas such as the Persian Gulf, India, Pakistan, and in the southwestern parts of North America.
“The crossings of all these thresholds imply a greater risk to human health — we can say we are universally creeping close to this magic threshold of 35 degrees Celsius. The tantalizing conclusion is it looks like, in some cases for a brief period of the day, we have exceeded this value,” says Tom Matthews of Loughborough University.
Matthews’ team also confirmed the threshold was breached by looking at more weather data based on temperature and humidity observations and some modeling. The analysis showed that several areas of the Persian Gulf will see the possibility of 35°C TW happening more frequently — once every 30 years at around 2.3°C of global warming. In laymen’s terms: it’s going to get hotter, deadly hot.
Here in Louisiana, we get intense heat and humidity, but I can’t imagine it being so hot that you literally can’t survive. I grew up with the phrase “drink water” said so often it was drilled into my mind. When you are hot, drink water. If you feel sick, drink water. If you feel fine, drink water. Heatstroke, especially for those who are new to higher temperatures, happens and is often fatal if you don’t have enough water. Drinking water enables our bodies to sweat. But the idea of it being too hot to survive with even these skills is terrifying.
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