Last week saw record breaking temperatures across the globe. What is at risk in this increased heat?
- Infrastructure fails. Materials like steel can start to expand above certain temperatures. In 2018, a steel bridge in Chicago had to be hosed down with cold water because the joints had expanded and could no longer open for boats to travel underneath. In 2012, rail lines deformed by heat in Illinois caused a freight train to derail and cause the collapse of an overpass.
- Planes can’t take off. In higher temperatures, planes need to be going faster in order to get off the ground. So longer runways are needed to be sure a plane has sufficient time to reach the necessary ground speed. In 2012 in Washington, D.C., when temperatures reached 100 degrees, a plane’s wheels sunk into the exceedingly hot tarmac and became stuck, delaying the flight for several hours.
- Asphalt can burn you. Asphalt can get as high as 20 degrees hotter than ambient temperatures during a heat wave and hot enough to burn you if touched. In 2018, asphalt along the Hume Highway which links Sydney and Melbourne in Australia actually melted when temperatures exceeded 47.3 degrees Celsius or just over 117 degrees Fahrenheit. The Humane Society warns that your animals and pets can overheat with extended exposure to hot asphalt.
- Bodies suffer serious health risks. Too much heat exposure usually starts with dehydration, heat rash, and muscle cramps. If not addressed, these symptoms can progress to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. People over 65, children, anyone with a medical condition, or those who work outdoors are more at risk. There is also evidence that heat disrupts our sleep, our ability to think clearly, and healthy birth rates.
- Crops suffer. It’s no surprise that plant life suffers in extreme heat just as we do. Heat sensitive and widely consumed crops like maize, soy, and spring wheat are likely to be among the most affected. Past heatwaves saw crop yields for maize, fruit, and even wine drop by as much as 30% in Italy and France.