Weather and Health: Hot Car Deaths

Summer weather can pose a number of health and safety concerns, from poor air quality to being hit by lightning. One of the more deadly risks for children, however, is heatstroke when they are left in a hot car.

Since 1998, according to kidsandcars.org, there has been an average of 37 hot car deaths in the US every year. That is one every nine days. This year, there have already been 34 deaths reported.

Credit: USA Today

On a sunny day, the interior temperature of a parked car can increase 19°F in just ten minutes. That means if the outside air temperature is a seemingly comfortable 70°F, the inside of the car can heat up to near 90°F in a very short period. The situation is even worse when the outside temperature is higher and the car sits in the sun longer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, if the human body reaches 104°F, organ damage and death become a real risk. Children are even more vulnerable because their smaller bodies can heat up between three to five times faster than that of an adult. Most hot car victims are under the age of three.

These dangerous situations develop in a number of different ways. Children can sometimes find their own way into a car while playing outside or a guardian leaves them alone in a vehicle for what seems like a quick errand. However, the majority of hot car deaths occur when a parent or caregiver gets distracted or has a change in their daily routine and simply forgets that a child is in the back seat when they park their car.

To avoid a heartbreaking tragedy, remember to Look Before You Lock!

NoHeatstroke.org

Lightning: The Five Second Rule

As a thunderstorm moves into an area, lightning  illuminates the sky followed by rumbles of thunder. Using this sequence of events and applying some simple math, you can estimate how far away the storm is.

Since lightning travels at approximately the speed of light – 186,000 miles per second – you see it almost instantly.  Thunder, on the other hand, travels at the speed of sound – about one mile in five seconds. These different rates of travel allow you to estimate the distance between yourself and the lightning.

To do this, count the seconds between seeing the flash of lightning and hearing the clap of thunder. Divide that number by five and you will know how far away the  lightning is. For example, if you count fifteen seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder, the lightning is about three miles away.

But, remember, if you can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike. So, as NOAA recommends, “When thunder roars, go indoors.”

Cloud to ground lightning strike. Credit: NWS

Storm Breaks Daily Rainfall Record in NYC

August has only just begun and it is already New York City’s wettest August in seven years. This is largely due to the strong thunderstorms that swept through the city on Saturday and unleashed more than half a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours.

According to the NWS, 2.9 inches of rain was measured in Central Park, setting a new record for the date. The previous record of 2.39 inches had been in place since 1983. On average, the Big Apple gets 4.44 inches of rain for the entire month of August.

The torrential rain, which came on the heels of NYC’s wettest July in fourteen years, flooded roadways and caused power outages across the city. Significant delays and cancellations were also reported at the area’s airports.

This type of heavy rain event, according to NOAA, is expected to become more common in the northeast as global temperatures continue to rise and precipitation patterns change.

Record rain floods the streets on the upper east side of Manhattan. Credit: NY1

Second Heat Wave of the Summer Bakes the Big Apple

New York City is sweltering through its second heat wave of the summer.

The threshold for what constitutes a heat wave varies by region, but here in the NYC area it is defined as three consecutive days with temperatures reaching 90°F or higher. Wednesday marked the city’s fourth day of scorching conditions.

With the dew point temperature in the 70s, it felt even hotter. The heat index – the so-called real feel temperature – reached into the triple digits.

The main driver of this dramatic heat and humidity is a dominant Bermuda High, a large area of high pressure situated off the east coast. Spinning clockwise, it has been steering hot, humid air from the Gulf of Mexico toward the northeast.

While these conditions are oppressive, they can also be dangerous. The NWS issued both heat advisories and air quality alerts for the city over the past few days.

The normal high for this time of year in the Big Apple is 84°F.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Weather and Health: Air Quality

The air we breathe is not always good for us. It often contains pollution, which can cause or aggravate a number of health issues including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is responsible for monitoring air pollution across the United States. Calculated on the Air Quality Index (AQI), a standardized indicator, the agency’s daily reports focus on the health effects people may suffer as a result of breathing polluted air. The scale runs from 0-500 with increasing AQI values correlating to higher levels of pollution and an escalating risk to public health. Values above 100 are considered unhealthy.

Unlike some other environmental challenges, air pollution is nearly impossible to avoid, as we all need to breathe. Caused mainly by vehicle exhaust, power generation, and industrial emissions, its sources are ubiquitous. The five major air pollutants measured on the AQI are, ground level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.

Pollutants often build to unsafe concentrations on days with very high temperatures and/or a lack of wind.  Ground level ozone, for example, forms when nitrogen oxides react with heat and U.V. light near the surface. Air quality alerts, therefore, are often issued in conjunction with heat advisories.

Tornado Touches Down in Queens, NYC

A tornado barreled through the New York City borough of Queens on Thursday night as powerful thunderstorms moved through the area. With winds between 70 and 85 mph, it was rated EF-0 on the Enhanced Fujita scale.

According the NWS, the twister touched down in College Point, Queens and traveled 0.7 miles east before dissipating in the Melba neighborhood. Measuring 100 yards wide, it knocked down at least 50 trees and numerous power lines. It also pulled the siding off several homes. No fatalities have been reported.

Tornadoes, historically, have been rare in New York City. In recent years, however, they have been happening more frequently. This latest twister was the 7th to hit NYC since 2010 and the 14th since 1950, when the NWS began tracking these destructive storms.

Tornado damage in Queens, NYC. Credit: WABC

July 2018: Wettest July in Fourteen Years for NYC

July is usually the wettest month on the calendar for New York City and this year it did not disappoint. In fact, it was an overachiever. In all, 7.45 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. That marks the city’s wettest July in fourteen years. Of this impressive total, 2.24 inches fell on a single day, which caused flash flooding around the five-boros. The city, on average, gets 4.60 inches of rain for the entire month.

In terms of temperature, July started with an extended heat wave and then produced some below average readings toward the end of the month. Highs ranged from a relatively cool 77°F to a steamy 96°F. However, with six days in the 90s, the warmth won out in the end. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 77.6°F, which is 1.1°F above average.

Weather Lingo: Humidity

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” This old adage heard throughout much of the summer in the eastern US, refers to how the amount of water vapor in the air affects human comfort. Since the body’s main source of cooling is evaporation of perspiration, the more moisture there is in the air, the less evaporation takes place and the warmer we feel. Two ways to indicate atmospheric moisture content are relative humidity and the dew point temperature.

Relative humidity (RH) measures the actual amount of moisture in the air compared to the total amount of moisture that the air can hold. It is expressed as a percentage and is commonly used in generic weather reports and apps. A high RH can produce fog and a low RH can cause rapid dehydration in both people and plants – important information for some sectors such farmers and crews fighting wildfires. But, since warm air can hold more moisture than cool air, the relative humidity changes as the air temperature changes.

The dew point temperature, on the other hand, is an absolute measurement and is often the preferred metric of meteorologists. It is the temperature to which air must be cooled in order to reach saturation. In other words, when the air temperature and the dew point temperature are same, the air is saturated and the relative humidity is 100%. If the air were to cool further, the water vapor would condense into liquid water, such as dew or precipitation.

The classic example of this phenomenon is a glass of cold liquid sitting on a table outside on a warm, muggy day. The beverage cools the air around it and beads of water form on the outside of the glass. The temperature at which the beads of water form is the dew point.

Simply put, the closer the dew point temperature is to the air temperature, the more humid it feels. In summer, when the air is warm and can hold a lot of moisture, a dew point temperature in the 50s is generally considered comfortable. Dew points in the 60s are thought of as muggy and once they reach the 70s or higher, the air can feel oppressive. On the opposite end of the spectrum, dew points in the 40s or lower are considered dry, and dry air has its own set of comfort issues

June 2018: Earth’s Fifth Warmest June on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with June 2018 marking the fifth warmest June ever recorded on this planet. The ten warmest Junes have all occurred since 2005, with 2016 earning the top spot.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for June – over both land and sea surfaces – was 61.25°F, which is 1.35°F above the 20th-century average. June also marked the 402nd consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

While heat dominated most of the planet this June, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe, central Asia, and parts of the Middle East. Here in the contiguous US, it was our third warmest June on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in June, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña in the Pacific to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first six months of 2018 were the fourth warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

June 2018 was the planet’s 5th warmest June on record. Credit: NOAA

Powerful Thunderstorm Brings Funnel Cloud and Flooding to NYC

An intense thunderstorm swept through New York City on Tuesday afternoon. With bands of torrential downpours, it unleashed nearly half a month’s worth of rain in just a few hours.

According to the NWS, 2.24 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. While that is an impressive total, it did not break the daily rainfall record for the date. That honor belongs to June 17, 1995 when 3.13 inches of rain was reported. New York City, on average, gets 4.60 inches of rain for the entire month of July.

Funnel cloud forms over NY Harbor. Credit: Michael Uturn/Twitter

The powerful storm also produced a funnel cloud over New York Harbor. However, according to the NWS, it did not reach down to the surface and therefore was not a tornado.

The heavy rain, on the other hand, produced a number of problems on its own. It caused flash floods and disrupted travel across the city. Torrents of water poured into several subway stations creating underground waterfalls and parts of the FDR Drive, a major highway on the east side of Manhattan, were closed due to flooding. Significant delays and cancellations were also reported at the area’s airports.

This type of heavy rain event, according to NOAA, is expected to become more common in the northeast as global temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change.

Heavy rain causes flooding on FDR Drive in NYC. Credit: Patch