Now, researchers from the Earth Institute at Columbia University found that parts of the world could begin to experience periods of heat and humidity that could make it dangerous for human survival.
“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now,” said researcher Colin Raymond. “The time these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow in direct correlation with global warming.”
Bracing for the heat
The researchers evaluated weather patterns around the world from 1979 through 2017. They learned that extreme periods of heat and humidity became twice as likely over that time period. The primary concern is that the heat will affect nearly every facet of consumers’ lives, including their physical health and finances.
While most consumers are used to seeing a heat index to measure the heat and humidity in their area, meteorologists use the “wet bulb” Centigrade scale. A reading of 32 C or higher is considered to be extreme heat, and the researchers explained that this threshold can make it nearly impossible for consumers to be outside. In terms of Fahrenheit, 32 C comes out to 132 degrees, making these temperatures dangerous for humans.
The researchers noted that the number of readings of at least 32 C have doubled over time, and periods of such intense heat and humidity are only expected to increase. “It’s hard to exaggerate the effects of anything that gets into the 30s,” said Raymond.
In addition to the risks to consumers’ health, which are amplified in the humidity, the researchers explained that these frequent high temperatures will have an effect on the economy, as many jobs will become impossible.
While air conditioning can certainly relieve some of the burden, many regions around the world with the highest temperatures aren’t equipped with air conditioning units, and the effects of staying indoors for long periods of time will be felt around the world.
“These measurements imply that some areas of Earth are much closer than expected to attaining sustained intolerable heat,” said researcher Steven Sherwood. “It was previously believed we had a much larger margin of safety.”