What started as a relatively cool summer has turned into scorching heat that is blazing across the United States. A deadly heatwave has taken over the Southwest of the US and has persisted into the Midwest. While last week temperatures had only been in the 70s and 80s, this week temperatures have climbed to the 100s and are continuing to break records.
Last week, temperatures were forecasted to reach or exceed 110 degrees fahrenheit in Palm Springs (California), Phoenix (Arizona), and Tucson (Arizona). Phoenix (Arizona) has had 24 consecutive days in which temperatures exceeded 110 degrees, which is a new record. Arizonans have not been able to catch a break, as overnight temperatures in Phoenix have not dropped below 90 degrees in at least two weeks.
Las Vegas has also tied its record, which was set in 1961, with 10 consecutive days at or above 110 degrees. El Paso, Texas has smashed its record with 38 straight days with temperatures at or above 100 degrees.
The Midwest will bear the heat as well, as temperatures in the Midwest are expected to reach near 100 degrees, with some heat index values up to 110 degrees. Last Tuesday in Chicago, the Air Quality Index reached 187, which is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. The extreme heat and humidity hit the Midwest this week, and meteorologists have warned that this heat can linger for days.
The wildfires from Canada are a likely reason for the extreme heat wave. During fire season, more greenhouse gasses are produced, which can lead to heat waves. Furthermore, heat waves can lead to a longer fire season, claims Saagar Patel, a doctoral Student at the Institute of the Environment & Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"Fires will begin earlier in the year, and they'll end later in the year and so there is a direct impact where a longer or more pronounced heat wave will lead to longer fire seasons.” Patel demonstrates that there is a cyclical relationship between wildfire smoke and heat.
The combination of this extreme heat and dangerous air quality can have detrimental effects on the body. Many of the health impacts on wildfire smoke are in particulate matter known as PM2.5. PM2.5 can cause both short-term health effects, even for healthy people, including shortness of breath, coughing, sneezing, and long-term effects such as asthma and heart disease.
While humans are well adapted to handle heat, adding conditions such as poor air quality puts a real strain on our health. "Independently, wildfire smoke and extreme heat conditions can greatly impact human health, particularly those who are vulnerable, meaning those who already have some underlying cardiovascular and metabolic or respiratory conditions," Chris Minson, a professor of human physiology at the University of Oregon, told ABC News. "And so then, when you combine the two things, certainly there can be an exacerbation of those problems."
While this is not the most uplifting news, we at least have experts that are able to advise us and keep us safe during this time. Dr. William Vizuete, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering in the Gillings School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that having a HEPA filter to filter air and put on conditioning helps combat extreme temperatures. Remember to drink water, stay indoors when possible, and wear a mask to protect your health and safety.
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