Heat Waves and Their Effect on the Economy

How Much Do Heat Waves Cost Us?

Heat exhaustion
•••

 Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

A is a period of unusually hot weather lasting two or more days. The temperature is hotter than average for the region. In an extreme heat wave, temperatures will break records. The frequency, severity, and length of heat waves are increasing.

Causes

Heat waves are caused by a high pressure system that hovers over an area. It traps heat beneath it like an oven. High-pressure systems force air downward. Hot air on the ground cannot escape into higher levels. Without rising air, there are no rain or clouds. The sun just bakes the area until a new pressure system is strong enough to push the high-pressure system away.

Climate change increases heat waves by increasing the Earth's average temperature. How much has it warmed? Since the 1880s, the earth’s average temperature or 1.2 degrees Celsius. Global warming is occurring .

In the northern hemisphere, climate change alters the jet stream. The jet stream is created when cold Arctic air meets warmer southern air. As the Arctic warms, it slows the jet stream. That allows heat waves to linger. A predicted that extreme weather in North America will increase 50 percent by 2100.

Effects

Over the past 30 years, than all other weather-related natural disasters combined. Heat waves kill in :

  1. Heat stress causes dehydration and loss of body salt. That throws off the chemistry of the body.
  2. As the body tries to cool, it taxes the heart. That can lead to failure in people with heart conditions.
  3. When the core body temperature rises beyond 104 F, organs fail. The gut leaks toxins into the body, creating a deadly inflammatory response called .
  4. People drown while trying to cool off in lakes and rivers.

Heat waves are most likely to affect people who work or live outdoors. The  estimates that have jobs that require them to be outdoors. Of those,  are in construction, are in logistics, and are farmers. In July 2018, a on the job when the temperature hit 117 F.

Also at risk are those without air conditioning. Worker productivity  for every degree Celsius above normal room temperature. The  estimates that heat waves will cost the U.S. workforce 1.8 billion labor hours in the year 2100. That's $170 billion in lost wages.

The elderly, injured, and children are most threatened. People on certain medications that curb their ability to sweat are also at risk. Alcoholic consumption worsens the effect of heat waves.

By 2030, heat waves will lead to , according to the International Labor Organization.

Heat waves contributed to the record wildfire season in the American West. The heat dried out vegetation, creating tinder for fires. Scientists were surprised that the heat was enough to from a wetter than normal winter. Wildfires are driven more by the temperature and moisture content in the air than by the moisture content in the soil.

Heat waves could be the reason behind the . Warmer temperatures make males less fertile by reducing sperm count, according to . It only took a 9 to 12 degree F spike over a five-day period to cut sperm count in half. A second spike almost sterilized the insects.

Costs

The estimates that heat waves and other climate change effects will cost the United States $360 billion per year by 2028. Much of this is due to health costs.

In 2016, health care costs were $3.3 trillion. That's 18 percent of the U.S. economy. That's up substantially from 1960 when costs were only $27.2 billion, or just 5 percent of gross domestic product. From 2002 through 2009, the health-related costs of heat waves was .

Heat waves also lower food production. Between 1964 and 2007, drought and heat waves of the world's cereal production.

National Weather Service Warnings

The U.S. National Weather Service notifies residents of upcoming heat waves. It uses a also called the apparent temperature. It factors in humidity with the air temperature in degrees Fahrenheit.

The NWS issues a Heat Advisory when the heat index reaches a certain level within the next 12 to 24 hours. The trigger point depends on average temperatures and is different for each locality. The advisory may be issued for lower temperatures if it is early in the season or during a multi-day heat wave. A heat advisory means that people could be affected by heat. It warns them to take precautions. It also triggers public safety regulations. These can include a ban on evictions and electricity shutoffs.

The NWS issues an Excessive Heat Warning when higher heat levels are expected within the next 12 to 24 hours. At those temperatures, some people can be seriously affected or die if they don't take precautions. The warning alerts hospitals to prepare for an increase in emergency calls. It activates programs that check on the home-bound. Some cities will open public air-conditioned centers. It also triggers the same public safety regulations as a heat advisory.

An Excessive Heat Watch is a warning issued one to two days in advance of the heat wave.

Heat Wave 2018

In July 2018, new temperature records all over the world. ever recorded on Earth. In China, new monthly temperatures were set in 22 counties and cities. On July 5, 2018, , reported 124.34 F, the highest temperature reliably recorded in Africa. Climate scientists were shocked by the sudden onset of these extreme events.

Forecast

A predicted that heat waves will raise U.S. death rates by the year 2100. Northern states, such as Montana, North Dakota, and Minnesota, will see summer temperatures 11 F hotter by then. Heavily populated states, like New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois, will see 10 F increases. The shows you how much hotter your county will be over the next 85 years.

By 2100, heat waves and the other effects of global warming will $112 billion per year.