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Study finds heat waves linger for longer periods of time: 'This really has strong impacts on public health'

Those substantial impacts include heat exhaustion, which can lead to potential heat strokes.

Those substantial impacts include heat exhaustion, which can lead to potential heat strokes.

Photo Credit: iStock

Groundbreaking research has found that high pollution levels are making heat waves move slower and last longer, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.

What's happening?

Heat waves are caused by high-pressure systems pushing hot air down, trapping it near the surface, and causing it to warm further, as The New York Times explained. The new study found that heat waves are moving slower than ever before. They now last about four days longer, on average, than the first analyzed period, which began in 1979.

According to the Times, the researchers found a correlation between a weakening of the jet stream, which moves weather systems around, and the slowdown of heat waves — yet more research is needed to conclusively show a weak jet stream caused the slower heat waves.

Regardless of the cause, a slowdown of heat waves could have significant consequences.

"This really has strong impacts on public health," said Wei Zhang, a climate scientist at Utah State University and one of the study's authors, per the New York Times.

Those substantial impacts include heat exhaustion, which can lead to heat strokes. Agriculturally, longer heat waves can wreak havoc on our food supply, devastating crops and leading to food shortages.

Why are longer heat waves concerning?

Pollution from dirty energy sources — such as coal, oil, and gas — accounts for the majority of gases causing our planet to overheat, which is particularly bad for weather. 

Human-caused climate change supercharges extreme weather events like heat waves. It's like adding gasoline to a fire, underscoring the importance of cooling down our planet.

Not only are heat waves lasting longer, they're happening more frequently. As the Times detailed, the study found that the number of heat waves from 2016 to 2020 increased by more than 30% compared to the amount between 1979 and 1983.

Prolonged hotter temperatures can increase dry conditions and lead to more wildfires. A different study found that decades of air-quality gains are partially being undone by heat waves, leading to an increase in the number of days with unhealthy air quality.

How can I better protect myself from heat waves? 

Heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, according to government reports. Better protection from extreme weather starts with more education about ongoing climate issues to make more informed decisions on staying safe and cool.

You can take some easy steps right now to help limit planet-warming gases in your daily life. 

One quite literally is taking steps! Consider walking more places when you can. Not only will you reduce your carbon footprint, but you'll boost your mental health and energy levels in the process. 

Another great option is unplugging your energy vampires every night. Learning which devices are the biggest culprits will save you cash and save electricity.

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