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Nighttime temperatures in Texas are indicative of a new, more hazardous type of heat wave.

The heat index is making it feel hotter than 110 degrees in some of the region’s most populous cities as a devastating heat wave sweeps across Texas and the South this week, affecting millions of Americans.

However, forecasters are warning of an even greater danger posed by this heat wave, and one that is becoming more common as a result of the climate crisis: the fact that overnight temperatures are not cooling down enough, providing little relief from the oppressive heat, especially for those who do not have access to air conditioning.

The National Weather Service released a statement on Monday highlighting the sneaky nature of this week’s heat wave, in which forecasters from the Weather Prediction Center warned that “the prolonged periods of near-record or record high nighttime lows and elevated heat index readings could pose more danger than a typical heat event.”

This week, overnight lows will likely set more records than highs will throughout the day. From Texas to the Mississippi Valley and even into some sections of Florida, afternoon high temperature records may be shattered by as much as 90 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NWS forecasts.

However, we should also expect exceptionally high nightly temperatures to persist for the following week, with as many as 180 nocturnal records being broken.

Scientists have cautioned that hotter nighttime temperatures are a result of the climate problem. The National Climate Assessment of 2018 found that across the United States, nights are warming more quickly than days.

As the days get hotter, more moisture is present in the air, which acts as a thermal mass, as explained by Lisa Patel, executive director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health. During the day, the moisture acts as a heat reflector, but at night, it acts as a thermal blanket.

The urban heat island effect makes it such that cities are much hotter than their surrounding areas, especially at night.

Temperatures in Dallas, for instance, are forecast to remain above 80 degrees Fahrenheit for the next six nights in a row, which would be a June record for the city.

Parks, rivers, and tree-lined streets reflect more of the sun’s rays than urban environments with plenty of asphalt, concrete, buildings, and freeways. Kristie Ebi, a climate and health expert from the University of Washington, stated that the stored heat is released back into the air at night, when temperatures are expected to drop.

On the warmest summer days, areas with a lot of grass and trees are cooler because they reflect sunlight and produce shade.

“Many cities have constructed cooling shelters, but residents must know where they are, how to access them, and during what hours they are open,” Ebi said, emphasizing that urban planning must be rethought to accommodate climate change.

“Trees take a long time to mature, so city planners must take into account the likelihood of a considerably hotter future when implementing new policies that encourage tree planting.”

So far this month, Houston has had nine days with temperatures above 80 degrees, which is nearly twice as many as normal for the month of June. The city’s records show that this has occurred twice before.

According to Patel, our bodies need a cooling-off period at night. However, the likelihood of that happening is diminishing due to climate change. A recent study indicated that unless pollution that causes global warming is drastically reduced, heat-related mortality might increase six-fold by the end of the century due to rising nighttime temperatures.

The climate catastrophe is already impacting people’s capacity to sleep, according to researchers. According to research published just last month, the amount of sleep lost by persons in warmer climes increases by one percentage point for every additional degree of heat.

A sweltering night makes it difficult to fall asleep, but “we all know what it’s like to try,” Patel said. Frequently, we find ourselves unable to get to sleep. By the end of the century, we may lose approximately two days of sleep annually, and those without air conditioning will be hit the hardest.

According to Patel, heat stress can develop into heat stroke, which is accompanied with confusion, dizziness, and passing out if the body does not have time to recuperate (usually at night).

While this can happen to anyone, the effects are magnified for the elderly, those with preexisting diseases, and very young children, especially infants, she said. Heat waves that last for days cause more deaths because the human body can’t function properly without a steady supply of cool air.

When asked about the challenges of surviving a heat wave throughout the day, Patel compared it to competing in a race. “When temperatures don’t fall at night, we don’t get the crucial period of time we need to relieve the stress that being hot during the day has put on our bodies. This prevents us from recovering and recovering, which is what we need a cold break for.”

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