Editorial: Prepare now for a warming island

This week’s modest heat wave should remind us all to be cautious.

With any luck, by the time you’ve picked up this edition of The Beachcomber, this week’s heat advisory will be rapidly fading.

The region experienced heat in the low 90s on Sunday and Monday, and was forecasted to do so again Tuesday. When it’s hot, we all need to drink more water, be mindful about laboring under the sun and check on those who are especially heat sensitive.

The heat this week isn’t anything apocalyptic, and 92 degrees might seem like amateur hour for those from sunnier states. But consider the effects of higher humidity, which reduces the effectiveness of sweating to relieve heat.

In arid Palm Springs, California, 100 degrees is scorching, but the dry air improves evaporation, and homes and offices are built to withstand and mitigate the sun’s rays.

In our humid land of temperate rainforests, 100 degrees is a different beast. The body retains more heat thanks to humidity, and many buildings and homes were designed with cold, not hot weather in mind.

To really understand the risk, research “wet-bulb temperature.” It’s a way of measuring how dangerous heat can become when humidity approaches 100%.

We’re not saying this to alarm you, but it is past time to be prepared.

During the June 2021 heat dome, Washington State’s deadliest weather disaster in its history, at least 125 people died as multi-day 100-plus heat melted cities and rural areas across the Pacific Northwest. More than a century of heat records were broken by that event, and global climate change — driven largely by human activity — promises to continue breaking those records.

Many — most, probably — of those deaths were avoidable. A 63-year-old man was found dead on the porch of an Olympia church. A 68-year-old woman fell and died after getting out of her car in Enumclaw — unnoticed for about two hours in the heat.

Consider those in your life who are very young, very old, prone to illness or hard to reach. Are they ready for an extended heat wave? You could be the one to check on them, help them heat-proof their house, or deliver food and water in an emergency. You could have them plan to call or text you regularly when it’s hot.

Consider your own home. Have you invested in cooling measures? Do you have a plan for when the next heat dome broils the region for days on end?

Consider your occupation or employees if your career involves laboring outside. What’s the plan for working when the heat makes it impossibly dangerous to do so?

Consider those in our community who have little shelter, little money and few options. What can we build for them now — so that they don’t suffer when the heat strikes again?

It is inexcusable, in 2024, to ignore the consequences of anthropogenic climate change. It is inexcusable to ignore our neighbors or family when deadly heat strikes.

We are fortunate that, for the time being, the heat only really becomes killer for several days out of the year here.

But we need to prepare for those days — and be ready to spring into action to help those who are not.