This Fourth of July Will Be Different – Except for the Heat

It’s the Fourth of July and you just ate a red pepper to cool down from the heat. Well, maybe there are better ways to cool down, but without a doubt it’s going to be hot on the Fourth.

This year’s holiday will differ from previous years, with less of the usual trappings of parades, fireworks displays, concerts and picnics because of the pandemic, but as usual, you can count on scorching heat.

Over the past 50 years, the average July temperature in Birmingham has increased 2.4 percent. That places the city among the 44% of U.S. cities that registered average increases of 2.4 degrees F or more, with 242 cities analyzed, according to Climate Central, the nonprofit news organization that analyzes and reports on climate science.

If 2.4 degrees F seems to be a small increase, in times of warming, rising average temperatures result in significantly more extreme highs. The warming comes largely from rising, human-sourced, greenhouse gas pollutants in the atmosphere, which have led to more extreme hot temperatures. Birmingham now experiences an average of almost 12 more days per year of temperatures above 95 degrees F than it did in 1970, Climate Central reports.

According to the federal government’s Global Climate Report from May, climate scientists are confident that 2020 will be among the hottest years on record.

More extreme heat days can have many possible harmful effects, including poor air quality caused by air stagnation trapping pollutants that are associated with worsening episodes of asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Extreme heat also causes more heat illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Of all the hazards of weather, heat kills more people, on average, than any other, according to government figures. The 2003 European heat wave caused about 70,000 deaths.

Residences without air conditioning obviously are more at risk of heat illness than those with it. And when safety is a factor, many people hesitate to raise their windows at night.

High heat also provides an environment that vector-borne diseases can rise as mosquitoes and other insects expand their range. It damages farm crops not bred for such weather and promotes periods of severe drought. And it can strain the electric power grid due to increased demand for air conditioning.

Summer nights often don’t bring relief from extreme daytime heat, making it hard for people to recover, especially if the temperatures at night stay above 80 degrees. Humidity is often higher at night, and combined with temperatures that do not decline sufficiently, dehydration can become a factor and serious, sometimes fatal, heat illness can result.

Urban areas such as Birmingham cool down less at night than rural areas do, mostly due to the heat island effect caused by expanses of concrete and asphalt as well as the lack of shade in many neighborhoods. Temperatures in the city can be up to 22 degrees hotter than in the nearby countryside.

The July heat is just one of the ways climate change affects Birmingham. Summer has been starting earlier, too. Climate Matters said the city’s first day of 90 degree weather came 11 days earlier than it did in 1970.

Notably, the first 90-degree day this year is forecast to be Friday July 3, with Fourth of July’s heat predicted to reach 91 degrees.