Heat waves becoming more common, data shows

Weather Week

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ When the weather gets warmer, people flock to the beach by the dozens in an effort to keep cool.

But whether you love the warmer weather or loathe it, summers are getting hotter in New England and heat waves are becoming more frequent.

Dr. Kristina McAteer, an emergency physician at Newport Hospital, tells 12 News the heat can be dangerous for the elderly and those who work outside or don’t have air conditioning.

“It’s obviously a progression,” McAteer explained. “It goes from extremes … heat exhaustion, all the way up to heat stroke.”

McAteer said she’s seen her fair share of heat-related illnesses over the years.

“It may be the perfect storm of high temperatures, lack of air conditioning, increased age, not recognizing the need for hydration, and then you wind up with me in the emergency room,” she said.

A heat wave is defined as three straight days of 90-degree weather. Data dating as far back as the early 20th century reveals there’s been a clear increase in the frequency of heat waves.

During the last 50 years alone, Southern New England has experienced one extra heat wave per year.

When asked how the increase in heat waves could be affecting people, McAteer said, “we are finding that our population is aging and it’s our older population that is the most vulnerable to these high temperatures and these heat waves.”

Another sign of an increase can be seen in NOAA’s 30-year climate averages. For Providence specifically, both July and August are almost a full degree hotter.

So what are some of the warning signs that the weather has become too hot for the body to handle?

“You might feel warm, you might feel initially increased stress,” McAteer said. “Some other things that can happen is that you start to feel dizzy, you get nauseous, you can actually spike a fever.”

McAteer said prevention is the best medicine. To halt heat exhaustion before it even starts, McAteer recommends wearing sunscreen, wearing sun-proof or light-colored clothing, and trying to find a good deal on an air conditioner.

But that’s not quite the end of her prevention prescription.

“It’s really important that you are drinking regularly, staying well hydrated and then of course being physically active because the more healthy you are as a person, the more tolerance you are going to have for these extremely hot temperatures,” she said.

Heat waves are especially dangerous when the humidity level is high.

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