The frightening new stat about New Orleans and global warming


As citizens of the world, we all should be concerned — if not alarmed — about climate change and the impact it will have on our way of life. But when you are a citizen of New Orleans, as I am, the issue looms even larger. It’s no secret that my native city is on the front line of global warming; sitting below sea level and separated from the Gulf of Mexico and its ferocious tropical storms by a narrow belt of ever-sinking wetlands, New Orleans is one of the most vulnerable cities in America, if not the world.

This past summer that just ended — at least according to the calendar — was an unusually hot one for the Crescent City. Now, the Washington Post is publishing an alarming statistic that shows how quickly the pace of climate change is accelerating:

During one of the country’s hottest summers, New Orleans quietly set a mind-boggling record. On 43 nights, the temperature did not drop below 80 degrees in New Orleans, according to the Louisiana state climatologist. It blows the previous record out of the water — 13 nights in 2010. It’s also incredible considering in an average summer, New Orleans has just 2.1 nights at or above 80 degrees. This record should be getting much more attention than it has been.

Very warm overnight temperatures are hard on your body, let alone your utility bills. The elderly are particularly at risk during these times, as is the entire homeless population and anyone with an illness. You might be inclined to raise a finger to mention that air conditioning negates these effects, but around 30 percent of New Orleans’s population lives in poverty. If a family is lucky enough to own an air conditioner, they probably cannot afford to use it. Why is this happening? In short, man-made climate change.

It’s not just New Orleans and the South in general that are suffering through dangerously uncomfortable nights; this trend is obvious across the entire Lower forty-eight. And that’s exactly what we expect in a climate-change world. In reality, very warm overnight low temperatures have been increasing in frequency since the 1970s.

There are a couple of things that can explain this phenomenon. The air can hold more water vapor as it warms up. So as global temperatures increase, so does the humidity. That also means there’s more moisture to create clouds. Even though clouds keep things cool during the day — they reflect sunlight — they act as a blanket at night, keeping the day’s heat trapped near the ground. The humidity itself also acts like a warm, wet blanket. At night, the air doesn’t cool down past the dew point, which is inherently linked to humidity. The more moisture that’s in the air, the higher the dew point, and the warmer the overnight temperature.

The water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico has always been a cause for concern. Historically, that’s because a bathtub-hot Gulf would add tremendous moisture and strength to any tropical storms or hurricanes that bear down on the region. The last thing that New Orleans needs is another major hurricane the likes of Katrina, and we’ve been able to dodge that bullet since 2005. But here we see that the warm Gulf is having other adverse impacts.

Native New Orleanians and tourists alike adore the Crescent City for its sweltering summer days and its cool nights, when it’s refreshing to stroll through the French Quarter or grab a hot beignet or two outdoors at Cafe du Monde. But nobody wants to step out his or her front door at midnight and get hit with a wet blanket of fetid tropical air. These ridiculously hot nights are hurting New Orleans’ quality of life — and they’re also a steamy warning for the havoc that rising seas could wreak upon this great American city in just a few short years.

Read more about New Orleans’ dubious heat record in the Washington Post:

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2016 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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