Climate Change in the Midwest: Impacts, Risks, Vulnerability, and Adaptation

By S. C. Pryor | Go to book overview

11.
Historical and Projected Changes in Human
Heat Stress in the Midwestern United States

J. T. SCHOOF


introduction

Heat or anomalously hot weather that lasts for several days—“heat waves”—has clear impacts on society, including an increase in mortality and morbidity, in addition to placing strains on infrastructure and agriculture (power, water, and transport). Recent heat waves have been observed in North America, Europe, and Asia (Gosling et al. 2009). A particularly intense heat wave impacted the Midwestern United States during the summer of 1995, resulting in hundreds of fatalities in Chicago (Kunkel et al. 1996). Although there are considerable challenges in computing the precise num ber of excess deaths attributable to each occurrence of extreme heat (Gosling et al. 2009), each of these events resulted in substantial mortality and considerable morbidity (Knowlton et al. 2009). Indeed, extreme heat events are reported to be the single largest cause of weather-related mortality, causing over 3,442 deaths in the United States between 1999 and 2003 (Luber and McGeehin 2008). These events have raised questions regarding whether anthropogenic forcing of climate will lead to an increase in heat wave occurrence and/or intensity (see executive summary of the Health Sector in the U.S. National Assessment of 2007 (O’Neill and Ebi 2009)).

In the Midwestern region of United States, high summer temperatures are often accompanied by elevated near-surface humidity, which enhances human heat stress through reduction of evaporative cooling from the skin (see the overview of temperature trends and projections in chapter 2 of this volume). The combined effect of temperature and humidity on human heat stress is usually quantified as the apparent temperature (Ta; commonly referred to as the heat index, Steadman 1984), which can be readily computed from observations:

where T is the air temperature (°C) and e is vapor pressure (kPa).

As shown in Figure 11.1, apparent temperature is a linear function of air tem

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