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It's dangerous when the heat is on, scientists say

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a-ucs-1-72.jpgSo if you don't like heat in the heartland, should you move to Cincinnati?

That's one conclusion you might come to after looking over a study released last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists on temperature data in Chicago and several other Midwest cities over the past 60 years.

But Laurence S. Kalkstein, a University of Miami meteorologist and research professor, says you'd be wrong.

What the study, titled "Heat in the Heartland," shows is that heat waves have become more common and more dangerous in Chicago and other cities, Kalkstein said during a recent meeting with the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. That the same pattern didn't show up in Cincinnati was just one of those anomalies that pop up many scientific studies, he said.

"Even in the global warming models, not every place is showing warming," he said.

Instead of buying a time-share in Cincinnati, Kalkstein and the UCS scientists think you should reflect on this: Heat is the most dangerous of all weather phenomena.

Severe storms may get the headlines, but "heat events" kill more people than hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning and other storms combined.

"People underestimate the impact of heat because it looks the same out there," Kalkstein said. "There is no physical damage you can see - people equate physical damage with a catastrophe - yet in a matter of four days 800 people could die of heat in the city."

Also, the number of heat-related deaths is underreported because officials must meet particular criteria before they can attribute a heart attack, say, to the heat.

"Be assured that if the medical examiner said 18 [deaths], it probably was 50," Kalkstein said.

Instead of two, Chicago now on average has three major heat waves each summer, the data show. The hot days are getting hotter, there are more of them and the nights are less cool than they used to be.

The report is based on 60 years of data from Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cincinnati and Minneapolis. Each large city was coupled with a smaller one to control for any "heat island" effect generated by concrete, pavement and buildings in a large metropolis (Chicago was paired with Peoria).

Read UCS climate scientist Todd Sanford's blog on the study here.

Read a July 31 St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial here.

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1 Comment

Interesting using data from the last 60 years, isn't it possible that we're in a cycle that was last seen 150 years ago? There's a lot of time that weather wasn't tracked, I hope that's just the case, but I'm probably wrong.

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