Forecasting Change: It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity

Warmer air holds more moisture, which poses a greater risk for those with health conditions

ORLANDO, Fla. – August has arrived! The most active part of our hurricane season begins and the average daytime temperature high is still 92 degrees. In July, we were above average for temperatures.

The average maximum temperature in July 2022 went into the books as 94.5 degrees. That is two and a half degrees above the 30-year average. So far, August is also off to a “hot start” with the high on the first day of the month hitting 98 and the high on the second day hitting 95.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, 702 people die each year due to heat-related issues. In the U.S., the heat also causes an average of more than 67,000 emergency room visits.

This week on Forecasting Change, we are discussing humidity and its effect on our summer heat.

How many times have you heard someone say, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity?” No truer words have ever been spoken.

Heat is dangerous, and over the last 70 years, our summers have been getting warmer. As we learned last week, our overnight lows have warmed by more than 2 degrees on average across the country. This graphic below shows the change in temperatures since 1950.

Dry heat

While the increase in temperature has been impressive, the rise of the “equivalent temperature“ has tripled in the same period.

By “equivalent temperature,” we mean a heat metric that uses specific humidity instead of relative humidity.

“Compared to other humid heat metrics, equivalent temperature is a more sensitive indicator of human heat stress,” according to Climate Central.

Humid heat

Remember, global temperatures are rising due to climate change and warmer air can hold more moisture or humidity. This increase will have effects on human health.

With hotter air containing more moisture, those with breathing issues, heart problems and other medical conditions will be more at risk. There are also large parts of the U.S. that do not have air conditioning.

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About the Author:

Tom Sorrells is News 6's Emmy award winning chief meteorologist. He pinpoints storms across Central Florida to keep residents safe from dangerous weather conditions.