Temperatures in Death Valley, California reached a blistering 130°F on Sunday. If verified, Sunday’s temperatures will be the hottest recorded anywhere on Earth since 1931 in Tunisia.
Extreme heat is blanketing the state and in other parts of the Western U.S. The high temperatures are harming human health and forcing blackouts for the first time in nearly 20 years.
This is an example of the clear and present danger of the climate crisis. The high temperatures during the day — and even at night — are a nightmare scenario for humans and a grave reminder that we must do something now to mitigate a disaster.
What’s worse is that a Natural Resources Defense Council study from 2016 points out that Latinos are disproportionately affected by extreme heat. A majority of Latinos in the U.S. live in California, Texas, Florida, and New York — the states most impacted by extreme heat, air pollution, and flooding. Dangers are significantly worse in historically redlined neighborhoods. While public cooling centers serve as a reprieve for vulnerable populations, the coronavirus pandemic has reduced their accessibility, thereby increasing risks for those who need them.
Each year, extreme heat kills more than 600 people on average, which exceeds that of any other natural disaster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. New research, however, puts the number of heat-related deaths to as high as 5,608 deaths annually. California officials are warning that this heatwave could rival the 2006 heatwave, which killed between 350-450 people, according to state researchers.
The peak of California’s wildfire season has just begun and will last until November. As the heatwave dries out vegetation throughout the West, firefighters’ efforts to control the fires are impacted. The climate crisis is making heatwaves and wildfires more frequent as well as more intense in the Western U.S., scientists say.
The extreme heat is not the only factor impacting temperatures in Death Valley and other parts of the Western U.S. On Saturday, a rare fire tornado broke out near the California-Nevada border. Experts blame excessive temperatures. Extreme heat in the West is expected to last until Thursday, according to NPR.
The Department of Homeland Security recommends that individuals vulnerable to extreme heat prepare now.
This past June, the City of Cambridge published a list of recommendations for those vulnerable to extreme heat during the coronavirus. Here is a summary of their advice for staying cool:
- Know the signs of heat-induced illnesses.
- Stay hydrated and drink water, even if you do not feel thirsty.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages, as well as those with caffeine and sugar.
- Bring water with you anytime you leave your home as public water fountains are turned off during the pandemic.
- Stay out of the sun and use protection.
- Wear loose-fitted, light-colored clothing, a hat and sunglasses if possible to keep cool.
- Plan ahead and take shopping trips early in the day to avoid the afternoon heat.
- Continue wearing your masks, however, when feeling overheated, remove it and breathe while six feet away from others.
- Take cold showers, stay cool indoors, and close blinds during the day.
- Check on your neighbors, especially the elderly or those who live alone, as well as those with medical conditions.
In the year 2020, where climate crisis-induced extreme weather is on the rise and coronavirus makes staying safe more complicated, the need to help one another and to engage in climate action is more important than ever.
Editors note: This article was produced in partnership with Earth Day Network. In a democracy, every voice matters. Click here to pledge to vote on environmental progress in 2020.