Increased temperatures fan heat-related deaths study

Executive editor — publications

Thursday, July 19, 2018

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A regional study to determine the mortality rate associated with heat stress is to be undertaken by Jamaica's Met Service, the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology, and The University of the West Indies, a local climatologist has told the Jamaica Observer.

The research is being done in response to rising temperatures in the region and will provide scientists with data which can be used to provide public information that can help mitigate the effects of increased temperatures.

According to climatologist Glenroy Brown, there is evidence of a link between heat stress and mortality in the Caribbean. However, scientists in the region need data to speak more conclusively to the problem.

“Before, we were so accustomed to thinking that we live in the tropics so we always have high temperatures, but with these new increases in temperatures, what we are seeing is an increase in heat stress that leads to mortality,” Brown told the Observer last week.

“We need data from the health sector to support this, but there is evidence, even in the United States. We looked at evidence coming out of Miami that links mortality with increased temperatures, so we realise there is a linkage here,” Brown added.

Scientists have reported that the average annual temperature across the world is 1C warmer than it was 100 years ago. Last week, the World Meteorological Organization reported that June 2018 was the second warmest on record, while this year, so far, is the hottest La Nia year on record.

In recent weeks, there have been reports of heat-related deaths in a number of countries. Yesterday, Canadian media reported that just under 90 people across Quebec died when temperatures spiralled as high as 35.3C during the first week of July.

Locally, Brown said that nine stations across the island were examined to compare extreme temperatures from June-July 2017 and 2018.

The nine stations are located at Appleton in St Elizabeth; Frome, Westmoreland; May Pen, Clarendon; Bodles, St Catherine; Norman Manley International Airport, Kingston; Fair Prospect High School, Portland; Orange River, St Mary; Bengal Farm, St Ann; and Sangster International Airport, St James.

“During the month of June the data show that five out of the nine stations had recorded higher temperatures this year compared to last year, while four recorded slightly lower temperatures this year compared to the same period last year and one remained the same,” Brown stated in a report shared with the Observer.

The higher temperatures were recorded in May Pen (34.8C up from 34.2C); Bodles (34.6C up from 34.1C); Norman Manley Airport (33.8C up from 33.6C); Fair Prospect High (36.1C up from 35.1C); and Orange River (32.3C up from 31.9C).

“The information for the first eight days of July had similar results. Five out of the nine stations had recorded higher temperatures this year compared to last year, while four recorded slightly lower temperatures this year compared to the same period last year,” he said.

Brown pointed out that there are a number of environmental factors contributing to the increased temperatures affecting Jamaica.

“One of the main ones is at this time of the year we tend to have an increase in the Saharan dust. It seems to be a little bit more in the environment this year than last year,” he said.

The dust, he explained, “suppresses rainfall and increases temperatures, because once you don't have that cloud cover you don't have the cooling effect that the cloud cover provides”.

The island, he added, is also experiencing a period of high pressure which is generally associated with sunny and windy conditions.

“At this time of the year though — July going into early August — is the time when we would have our highest temperatures,” Brown explained.

The climatologist also pointed to global warming, saying that it is a factor that cannot be ignored.

“Over the last 15 years the planet has been experiencing the warmest temperatures since we started recording temperatures in the 1800s. So the last 15 years have seen a shift from what we are so accustomed to as the norm, to a new normal,” he said.

“So our night-time temperatures are actually getting higher... This will definitely have some impact on plants, animals, and humans, especially people who work outdoors,” Brown said.

He advised people to avoid staying outside for long periods between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm when the sun is at its peak and try to limit engagement in outdoor activity during those hours; try to dress in light clothing, as opposed to thick outfits; try to find areas that are shaded, “including in your room if you don't have access to air conditioning”; make sure to rehydrate by drinking a lot of cold water and try to avoid a lot of hot beverages in the middle of the day.

“Regarding farmers, we ask them to start to look at their drought management plan because when it's this hot, and it's predicted to be hotter in the next few months with less rainfall, you have to determine whether you have enough water — if we don't get the regular rain — to sustain the crops you are about to plant,” Brown advised.

He also said that water managers, like the National Water Commission (NWC), should start to look at their water management plan to see if they can meet the demand if the island does not get enough rain.

Brown also spoke to the drought now affecting parts of the island, saying that currently Portland is under a drought watch because for the past two months the parish has been getting way below-normal rainfall. That, he said, is now affecting the volume of water flowing into the Hermitage dam, which the NWC on Tuesday reported was at 48.9 per cent of capacity, down from 50.1 per cent on Monday, and 55.5 per cent last Friday.

Sections of St Catherine and Clarendon, Brown said, are under a drought alert, but that will likely be upgraded to a drought watch if those parishes do not get rain any time soon.

“We're now going into what we consider our primary rainy season, and if it is this bad now, [and] the prediction is for it to be normal or below normal, it could have some devastating impact on the island,” Brown said.

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