OCEAN COUNTY – Experts said that heat waves, like the one the shore just went through, happen more now than they did in the past, and that you should expect them to happen more frequently in the years to come.
Recently, the shore area has been faced with temperatures in the 90s for days on end. However, the heat index was even higher. Cameron Wunderlin, general forecaster for the National Weather Service, explained that the heat index is how it feels, and is a combination of factors like humidity and temperature.
For example, the temperature was high enough – 94 to 99 degrees – but it felt like 102 to 107 degrees.
There were several days with a UV Index of 9 out of 10, which, according to the World Health Organization, means that there is a high chance for skin and eye damage if you’re not protected.
Additionally, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day for Ocean, Monmouth, and other counties. This means that the concentration of air pollution will be dangerous for the elderly and those who have asthma, heart disease, lung disease and other sensitive health conditions.
Heat advisories were in effect, meaning that being outside for an extended period of time could cause illness or worse. Water companies ordered odd/even watering for residents.
However, despite all these factors, it wasn’t the worst we’ve had.
“We’re not having record-breaking in terms of the heat,” Wunderlin said. “The temperatures are well above normal but not record-breaking.”
However, the NWS doesn’t record heat indices, so it is unknown if it broke records based on how it feels.
The cause for this most recent heat wave was multifaceted. It involved upper level patterns over us and in several directions for hundreds of miles away. One weather system brings heat and moisture up from the south. The patterns of upper level pressure keep it here.
Scientists have been measuring data like temperatures and sea levels to prove that the planet is heating up and the sea levels are rising. The indication is that this is caused by human behavior.
It is difficult to scientifically prove that a singular piece of evidence is a result of climate change, officials have said. It’s more of a long-term, big picture concept rather than something that can be studied in one small area, such as the Jersey shore.
For example, climate change states that the industrialization of America has led to higher temperatures and less clean air and water. However, it’s difficult to prove that the last 40 years of development in Ocean County has specifically led to all the 90-degree weather we had this summer.
“We would not be able to say if this heat wave was caused by climate change,” Wunderlin said. Climate, by definition, is something that takes place over a long period of time, as opposed to a day’s weather.
A heat wave like the one we saw here is the type of thing that climate change is likely to bring about, he said, but a particular heat wave can’t be seen as being caused by climate change. In the years to come, residents should expect to feel more heat waves like this one.
More evidence for the climate change model is that the average annual temperatures in New Jersey have increased about 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (F) between the period of 1971-2000. That’s a span of 30 years. However, it only took 10 years for the average annual temperature to increase another 1.2 degrees from the period of 2001-2010, according to the State Health Department.
New Jersey has coastal areas, forests, cities, and more. These bring about a difference in temperature in any given day. So, they all have to be taken into account. On average, based on data from 16 weather station locations spread across the state, the number of days over 90 degrees F have increased from about 17 to 23 per year.
The heat waves are expected to become hotter and longer, according to state predictions. Whereas it used to be true that a heat wave lasted about four days, it is now expected to last five. The number of days hotter than 90 degrees used to be 14 in the year 2000. It is now projected to be 23-29 days a year.
According to the State Department of Health, Ocean County had 66 heat-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits in 2020, the most recent year available. There were 698 throughout New Jersey that year, and Ocean was the county with the highest number. The next highest was Camden with 55.
Anyone is susceptible to heat-related illnesses but some people are more vulnerable than others.
Brian Lippai, public information officer for the Ocean County Health Department, said that the most vulnerable populations include the elderly, infants and children, pregnant women, athletes, and outdoor or manual workers.
“There is certainly a concern for those people who are taking medicines for common conditions such as blood pressure, asthma, allergies, and depression. Some of those meds can impair the body’s ability to regulate in the heat,” he said.
Some other key tips to stay healthy during a heat wave:
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water – even if you’re not thirsty. Hot weather causes you to sweat, and it’s vital to replenish the lost fluids or you’ll overheat. Have a water bottle within reach as you go about your day to avoid dehydration.
- Never leave children or pets alone in hot vehicles – even for a second. Keep your pets indoors and make sure they have access to a cool space and plenty of water.
- Stay inside during the hottest part of the day (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and limit time outside in the sun. Avoid strenuous activity and postpone outdoor games and events.
- When you’re in the outdoors, make sure you stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Wear a hat or even carry an umbrella. Wear sunscreen.
- Set your air conditioners to a lower temperature and use curtains or blinds to keep direct sunlight out. If A/C is not available, stay indoors on the lowest floor in a well-ventilated area with fans. Keep shades and blinds closed. If you don’t have air conditioners, place a tray or dish of ice in front of a fan and it’ll help to cool your room quickly.
- Don’t drink alcohol, sugary soda, coffee, energy drinks, or other caffeinated beverages, as they dehydrate you.
- Eat small meals and eat more often. Eat food with nutrients (not empty carbs) and also food with higher water content (fruits and vegetables).
- Wear light, loose-fitting, airy, light-colored clothing and a hat made of breathable material. Tight clothing traps heat.
- Check on family and friends who are elderly or more susceptible, especially if they may have lost A/C. If you or someone you know is experiencing heat-related issues (rapid heartbeat, dizziness, fainting, headaches, muscle cramps, vomiting, diarrhea), call your doctor.
- If you feel overheated, cool off with wet washcloths on your wrists and neck or take a cool sponge bath or shower. Carry a cold water bottle spray or cooling facial mist with you, and spritz cold water on your pressure points to bring your body temperature down.
Signs of heat stroke:
- High body temperature (103°F or higher)
- Hot, red, dry, or damp skin
- Fast, strong pulse
- Losing consciousness (passing out)
To treat heat stroke, call 911 right away because it is a life-threatening emergency. Move the person to a cooler place. Don’t give them something to drink. Instead, lower their temperature with cool cloths or a cool bath.
Signs of heat exhaustion:
- Heavy sweating
- Cold, pale, and clammy skin
- Fast, weak pulse
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle cramps
- Tiredness or weakness
- Fainting (passing out)
To treat heat exhaustion, move to a cool place, loosen your clothes, sip water, and put cool, wet cloths on your body or take a cool bath. Get medical help right away if you are throwing up, your symptoms get worse, or your symptoms last longer than 1 hour.