Erika Spanger-Siegfried, an analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, coined the new name for summer. The group introduced the phrase in two blog posts and on social media last week, and the team plans to continue using the expression as warm-season disaster strikes. All 50 states are expected to experience unusually high temperatures this summer, and as drought persists across much of the West, the threats could strain power grids and cause blackouts.
Of course, the danger season depends on where you live: in the southern hemisphere, summer lasts from December to February, when Australia’s bushfires can get out of control. But wherever you are, the warm-weather disaster is creeping into late spring and early fall, said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists.Schools without air conditioning are increasingly closing for “hot days,” as they did in Philadelphia in late May, when classroom temperatures peaked 100 degree.
Many climate threats also lurk outside the danger season. Consider the devastating floods that hit Washington state and British Columbia in November, causing mudslides on highways and forcing the evacuation of thousands. What makes summer especially threatening is the way disasters can collide and compound. In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, a major hurricane knocked out power and water services just as summer heatwaves hit. Cool, water,” Dahl explained. As extreme heat becomes more frequent and storms become stronger, “you’re more and more likely to have a coincidence of heatwaves and major hurricanes. “
Part of the idea behind using the term “dangerous season” is to make it harder for people to whitewash the climate crisis. “I just want to be honest, 10, 15 years ago, when we were talking about these things, we didn’t want to scare people,” Cleetus said. “We want people to understand the science and be really invited to understand what it means. Right now we’re scared, we’re scared because we’ve unleashed something in the world.”
Edward Maybach, director of the George Mason Climate Change Communication Center, said the “season of danger” strikes him as a useful framework to help people realize that they need to prepare for recurring disasters, rather than react to them. “Knowing that the season of danger is getting longer, hopefully helps people, businesses and governments realize that action is now needed to protect what they value and depend on,” Maybach wrote in an email to Grist.
Dahl called for a “national resilience strategy” to coordinate efforts to help communities survive disasters and to develop policies to protect people. That means Western building codes require buffer space around homes to reduce fire hazards, as well as national thermal and smoke protection standards for outdoor workers. “A lot can be done locally,” she said, “but we also need to think on a larger scale.”