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Scientists warn dangerous and widespread weather phenomenon is becoming 35 times more likely: 'Will only get worse'

"Vulnerable people will continue to die and the cost of living will continue to increase."

"Vulnerable people will continue to die and the cost of living will continue to increase."

Photo Credit: iStock

Record-breaking deadly heat waves that impacted Mexico in May and the southern United States in June were made much more likely by an overheating planet.

What's happening?

Researchers have found that rising global temperatures caused by a buildup of toxic heat-trapping gases significantly increase the odds of deadly heat waves occurring and making them more intense. Scientists from several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Mexico, Panama, and Sweden, contributed to a study to see how much rising temperatures caused by human activity influence the likelihood and intensity of heat waves.

Their study concluded that maximum temperatures during the heat wave that struck much of Mexico, Central America, and parts of the southern U.S. were made hotter and 35 times more likely because of human-induced warming. The hotter nighttime temperatures they analyzed during the streak of sweltering heat were made 200 times more likely.

"As long as humans fill the atmosphere with fossil-fuel emissions, the heat will only get worse. Vulnerable people will continue to die and the cost of living will continue to increase," said Izidine Pinto, a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological and co-author of the study, per The Guardian.

Why is a greater likelihood of intense heat waves important?

Heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the U.S., killing more people in most years than tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods combined. Maricopa County, Arizona, has reported six confirmed heat-related deaths already this year. The medical examiner's office is investigating more than 100 other deaths to see how many of them were heat-related. 

The Guardian reported more than 100 people died in extreme heat in Mexico since March, and thousands of others in the country were victims of heat strokes. Deadly heat waves this summer have also hit Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. No one knows how big a toll heat has taken on Central America. The region is vulnerable because of high poverty levels and an inadequate way to warn its citizens of impending heat.

What's being done about the increasing risk of heat waves?

The study's authors suggest improving extreme-heat warning systems and action plans to help with preparedness in Central America. They also recommend enacting and implementing heat safety protection laws to help protect the region's outdoor workers. Other recommendations include strengthening grid resilience and improving water conservation strategies to make services more reliable during extreme heat events.

It will take a concerted effort to reduce the toxic pollutants warming our world, but there are many things we can do as individuals to help. We can help by changing how we get from one place to another, how we use electricity, and how we care for our lawns.

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