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Foss: Looking toward a hotter future

Foss: Looking toward a hotter future

Foss: Looking toward a hotter future
Many took refuge from the heat in Schenectady's Central Park pool Saturday, July 20, 2019.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER

I once hated air conditioning. 

When I lived in Alabama, I strove to use it as little as possible, even during the sweaty, sweltering summer months. On particularly steamy days, I turned it on at night to make it easier to sleep. 

These days, I'm much quicker to turn on the A/C, and I used it liberally during the weekend's hot weather. For the first time ever, I kept it on round-the-clock, shutting it off on Monday morning and opening up the windows to let in the cool breeze. 

A cool breeze through an open window is my preferred method of cooling, but I wouldn't be surprised to find myself using the A/C more and more in the coming years. 

That's because we're going to see more days when temperatures hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. 

According to an interactive chart created by The New York Times, our hometowns are already hotter than they once were, and likely to get even hotter as a result of climate change. 

In 1975, the year I was born, Schenectady could expect the temperature to reach at least 90 degrees five days per year. 

These days, the city can expect to see seven days at or above 90 degrees each year, on average. In 2055, the number of such days per year will range from 10 to 24. 

This is bad news if you found last weekend's weather completely intolerable. 

But -- and here's the good news -- there are ways to make hot, humid weather tolerable. 

Looking at that same New York Times interactive chart, I can see that Birmingham, Alabama, where I spent three summers, is, and always will be, much hotter than upstate New York. 

According to the chart, there are about 69 days each year where the temperature reaches 90 degrees or higher. By 2055, there will likely be between 75 and 111 such days. 

You hear far less bellyaching about hot weather in the South than the North, even though there's more of it, and the reason is simple: People are not only accustomed to it, but better prepared for it.  

We might not be accustomed to the blazing heat that's typical in the South, but that doesn't mean we can't prepare for it. 

One idea is to cool cities and towns by planting more trees. 

A 2016 report from the Nature Conservancy suggests that urban trees can save lives. 

"Trees cool the air by casting shade and releasing water vapor, and their leaves can filter out fine particulate matter (PM) - one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, generated from burning biomass and fossil fuels." 

Another idea is to create more places for people to swim, splash around and cool off. 

Schenectady has already taken some positive steps in this direction, having built two new splash pads in recent years. 

The splash pad at Tribute Park, on Eastern Avenue, opened last summer, while a new splash pad at Woodlawn Park opened earlier this month. These are great new amenities that are free to use and can provide much-needed relief from extreme heat. 

Air conditioning is also essential, and while it does come with costs, the unfortunate reality is that extreme heat can kill, and older adults with underlying health problems are most at risk.  

Ensuring that everybody has access to air conditioning will make future heatwaves more bearable, and also less deadly -- something policymakers have already recognized. 

In March, the governor's office announced that the state would make $6 million available to help New Yorkers suffering from chronic conditions that are aggravated by extreme heat purchase an air conditioner. 

Now that it's cooled off, I can go back to cooling my house the old fashioned way -- with fans, open windows and shades. 

But the air conditioners are still there, and I wouldn't hesitate to turn them back on if the heat and humidity returns. 

Which I'm sure it will, sometime in the not-too-distant future. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 


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