Wet Bulb Temperature: You Need to Know What It Means

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As the Earth warms, regions across the world may experience a heat phenomenon that can quickly kill people. Why? It prevents the body from sweating and thus cooling internal organs. It can be fatal.

What is wet bulb temperature?

Wet-bulb temperature accounts for both heat and humidity, unlike the standard temperature measurement you see on your weather app. It reflects what that combination means for the human body’s ability to cool down. [Washington Post, July 24, 2021 by Caroline Anders] To take a wet bulb temperature, wrap a moist cloth around a thermometer to measure at what temperature the body can no longer sweat to release internal heat into the atmosphere.

Find out how much your state is heating up with climate change

Why should we care?

From Science Magazine, The Emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerances.

“Humans’ ability to efficiently shed heat has enabled us to range over every continent, but a wet-bulb temperature (TW) of 35°C marks our upper physiological limit, and much lower values have serious health and productivity impacts. Climate models project the first 35°C TW occurrences by the mid-21st century. However, a comprehensive evaluation of weather station data shows that some coastal subtropical locations have already reported a TW of 35°C and that extreme humid heat overall has more than doubled in frequency since 1979. Recent exceedances of 35°C in global maximum sea surface temperature provide further support for the validity of these dangerously high TW values. We find the most extreme humid heat is highly localized in both space and time and is correspondingly substantially underestimated in reanalysis products. Our findings thus underscore the serious challenge posed by humid heat that is more intense than previously reported and increasingly severe.” (35°C × 9/5) + 32 = 95°F)

In the last week of abnormally high temperatures and high humidity in Bowling Green, KY, Weather Bug notifications issued warnings on wet/bulb temperature conditions that threatened human health. I looked on the Warren County Health Department website and the Bowling Green Daily News and found no information on these conditions.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke – how to recognize them and what to do:

Both heat exhaustion and heat stroke are serious conditions. Heat exhaustion begins with general muscle weakness, sudden excessive sweating, nausea and vomiting, and possible fainting. A heat stroke is when your body’s internal temperature reaches over 103 degrees. You begin experiencing a loss or change of consciousness, agitated, unexplained behavior changes, hot, red, and dry skin.  All of these symptoms should be taken seriously. This is from Comanche County Hospital in Oklahoma: Heat Exhaustion versus heat stroke. Instructions on how to recognize each and how to prevent these conditions, as well as what to do if either are recognized.

As citizens we need to make sure our county health departments are educating the public about these conditions. Make sure they do.

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