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Climate and Environment

Temperature’s Rising, It Isn't Surprising… But Surely Alarming

A white man who appears to be in his 20s or 30s, wearing a public worker's uniform, stands over a fountain and splashes water on his forehead. The fountain and a set of steps next to him are reddish-beige stucco. The sun appears to be strong and it is daytime.
A street sweeper cools off with water at a fountain.
(Jorge Guerrero
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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In the musical romance “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” Marilyn Monroe sang “Heat Wave,” crooning in her signature breathy voice: “the temperature’s rising, it isn’t surprising….”

It's a song that's gotten stuck in my head nearly every heat wave since I was a pre-teen growing up in Southern California.

The year Monroe sang that song was 1954 — it was timely because that summer record-breaking heat swept the Midwest.

But that heat wave was a natural anomaly. UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain says our current heat wave has a human fingerprint.

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“It's becoming easier and easier to hit temperature thresholds that were historically difficult or impossible to reach in a cooler climate, unaffected by the human emission of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere,” Swain said.

Temperatures Will Be Far Above Normal In The Coming Days

If you’ve lived in Southern California a while, you know September is one of our hottest months. But this weekend, heat records are likely to be broken across California.

According to the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO), the non-profit agency that oversees the state’s electric grid, temperatures in Southern California are expected to be 10 to 18 degrees warmer than normal. In northern California, temperatures are expected to be 10 to 20 degrees warmer than normal.

Swain said the evidence of global climate change affecting this heat wave isn’t just in the record highs, but also how long this heat wave is expected to be and how much of the state it covers.

The climate crisis is also making extreme heat more frequent, particularly this time of year in California. “The autumn is one of the fastest warming times of year in much of California, especially in the coastal and valley regions,” Swain said.

Climate projections show that by 2040, coastal areas and central Los Angeles could experience three times more days with temperatures over 95°F. The San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys are expected to have even more dangerously hot weather.

And higher temperatures predicted at night, particularly in the foothills and inland areas this weekend, are another sign of how the climate crisis is exacerbating heat overall and interacting with our asphalt- and cement-heavy built environment … a dangerous, and potentially deadly, combination.

Extreme Heat Is Hazardous To Your Health

“The cumulative heat stress from those very warm overnight temperatures and extremely hot daytime temperatures combined are potentially going to cause quite a lot of human health adverse effects,” Swain said.

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That long-running extreme heat makes day and night hard on our bodies. It’s especially dangerous for those who don’t have a safe place to cool down, such as those who are unhoused or live in substandard housing.

And with the extreme heat forcing most everyone to crank up the A/C, the grid is extremely strained, according to CAISO. That’s why the agency issued its first Flex alert of the weekend, calling for voluntary energy conservation use from 4 pm to 9 pm tonight. (Read this story to understand why abiding by those flex alerts matters.)

The 10 warmest years on global record have all occurred in the 21st Century. And 2022 may end up on that list.

Global temperatures have increased about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. If emissions continue on their current track, that temperature is expected to hit 3 degrees C by end of century. The global goal is to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C. (Here's more on what that all means for L.A.)

Staying safe in the heat
    • Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink water or electrolyte-replacements
    • Drink cool water, not extremely cold water (which can cause cramps)
    • Avoid sweetened drinks, caffeine, and alcohol
  • Protect a pet from excessive heat

    • Never leave a pet or animal in a garage
    • Never leave a pet or animal in a vehicle
    • Never leave a pet or animal in the sun
    • Provide shade
    • Provide clean drinking water
  • Protect a human from excessive heat

  • Check in frequently with family, friends, and neighbors. Offer assistance or rides to those who are sick or have limited access to transportation. And give extra attention to people most at risk, including:

    • Elderly people (65 years and older)
    • Infants
    • Young children
    • People with chronic medical conditions
    • People with mental illness
    • People taking certain medications (i.e.: "If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot," says the CDC)
Tips to stay cool
    • Kiddie pool
    • Lotions in the fridge
    • Eat spicy foods in the basement (or on the floor) while wearing a damp shirt and listening to the rain setting on your white noise machine
    • Make sure ceiling fans are running counterclockwise
    • Wet paper towels. Fold into ankle and wrist cuffs. Freeze. Wear. Repeat.
    • Build a DIY AC
    • Build a mini cold air fan
    • Build an "evaporative cooler for immediate heat relief"
    • Make a barricade of fans and ice cubes
    • Go to an air-conditioned store and browse for as long as possible (Target is a good option for this).
    • Close all the curtains, preferably the heat-absorbing kind
    • Or open all the windows, depending on the breeze situation
    • Cool bath or shower twice a day
    • Wash your sheets before bed but don't dry them — put them on your bed damp (provided you're dealing with a dry heat)
    • Portable A/C unit

Get text updates
  • We're taking your questions about September's heat wave. Text HEATWAVE to 73224 to ask us your questions, and to receive our latest news on these outrageous temps, directly to your phone.

Climate Emergency Questions
Fires. Mudslides. Heat waves. What questions do you need answered as you prepare for the effects of the climate emergency?