By Anton Caputo- Express-News
Scorching summers and a relatively poor population have helped land San Antonio on a list of 30 American cities where climate change could make the heat especially dangerous for residents.
The report, released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation and Physicians for Social Responsibility, also looked at a city's air quality and percentage of population that has access to central air conditioning to identify communities where residents are more vulnerable to potentially deadly heat waves.
San Antonio made the third, and least dangerous, tier of the list. Houston and Dallas were in the first tier. Austin was in the second.
The groups that publish the study are using it to lobby for regulation of the greenhouse gases thought to cause climate change.
They're also pushing cities to prepare for heat waves through public health programs and community development strategies. Such strategies include saving trees and green space during development in an effort to keep the community cooler, and programs to assist low-income residents with air conditioning and insulation.
Average temperatures in the United States could increase 4 to 11 degrees by the end of the century, depending on efforts to control greenhouse gases, according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
“I really think that heat waves are an illustrative example that taking steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can make a significant difference,” said Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation.
The idea of a hotter San Antonio may seem hard to fathom this summer.
There have already been 56 days of 100 degrees or more in San Antonio this year, shattering the record of 36 days set in 1998, according to the National Weather Service.
But under some climate scenarios, the region could average 100 days or more of triple-digit heat every year by the end of the century.
Such hot weather is especially difficult for children, the elderly and those who suffer from asthma and heart disease, said Dr. Cindy L. Parker of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Very often, she said, those in the most risk won't seek out help.
“Social isolation was one of the greatest risk factors identified during the 2003 heat wave that killed more than 45,000 people in Western Europe,” she said.
Some believe that issue played a role in the death of 82-year-old twins Florence and Emma Jernigan, who were found dead in their South Side home in July. It was thought that the sweltering heat killed the sisters, who rarely turned on their air conditioning in an effort to save money, but the Bexar County medical examiner's office was unable to determine a cause of death.