Bloomberg — Record-breaking temperatures in Puerto Rico are threatening the health of people in the capital San Juan as areas on the island’s northern coast feel hotter than Saudi Arabia.
While Puerto Rico is typically warm, this week’s weather in the US territory is extreme. The temperature in San Juan hit a record 95F (35C) Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. The heat index, a measure of how hot it actually feels, will reach as high as 114F Wednesday.
“We’re navigating uncharted waters and we can’t let our guard down against this excessive heat,” Ada Monzón, chief meteorologist at San Juan news network Wapa Televisión, wrote on Twitter in Spanish.
The record high temperatures are caused by several factors, including a high-pressure system over the Atlantic and lower pressures near Florida. That’s combining with abnormally warm ocean temperatures as well as haze resulting from dry, dusty air blown over the Atlantic from the Sahara Desert. The Department of Health in San Juan issued a health alert earlier this week, warning residents not to do outside activities and not to walk their dogs because the heat could burn their paws.
What’s particularly dangerous is the combination of high temperatures and humidity that’s driving the heat index this week. The warmer-than-average ocean temperatures make it easier for that water to evaporate into the air. Such high humidity and heat make it harder for the human body to cool itself down.
“The level of humidity that Puerto Rico is experiencing now is ridiculous,” said John Morales, meteorologist and founder at ClimaData. “It’s just downright dangerous.”
It’s the latest example of the risks that climate change poses to human health and well-being. Dangerously hot conditions are set to become increasingly common and more extreme as people continue to burn coal, oil and natural gas, creating greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global warming.
Along with the conditions in Puerto Rico this week, a heat wave and power cuts in Bangladesh caused that country to suspend all classes for primary students. China is experiencing soaring temperatures in some of its biggest cities that have killed livestock and strained the power grid. And it’s only May, with the summer’s hottest temperatures potentially still to come.
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