School Cancelled in Philadelphia for Extreme Heat: A Sign of Things to Come

I grew up in New Jersey and raised my daughters in New York and never during all those years did I receive a call saying school was cancelled because of extreme heat. Now conditions are changing in the Northeast.

For at least the second year in a row, the Philadelphia school district announced an early dismissal due to soaring temperatures this week. Officials were concerned that forecasts in the 90s and high humidity levels could “create a situation in which heat illness is possible.”

School leaders were wise to consider the health of their students. Children and the elderly are among the most vulnerable to heat hazards, including rashes, breathing trouble, migraines, heat stroke, and heart problems.

Parents already have enough to worry about without wondering if a PE class in May will send their child to the emergency room with heat stroke.

Yet more families will be confronting these possibilities as climate change continues to raise temperatures around the United States. NRDC recently released a report analyzing peer-reviewed studies, and we concluded that an additional 33,000 heat-related deaths could occur by 2050 as a result of climate change (click here for a map of the cities most affected).

Philadelphia faces considerable risk. Our report found that between the years 1975 and 1995, the city experienced an average of 6 days of extreme heat per year. By 2055, that number is expected to reach 54 annually—a nine-fold increase. That means more cancelled school days, more emergency room visits, and more deaths.

Midcentury may feel like a long way off, but the heat is already rising. At least 42 states saw record daytime highs in the summer of 2011 and 49 states saw record high nighttime temperatures. This year is also off to a hot start: March 2012 was the hottest March since record-keeping began back in 1895, and April 2012 marked the end of the warmest 12-month stretch ever in the US.

Parents can take steps to protect their children from extreme heat, including limiting their sports and outdoor activities during the day’s hottest hours, encouraging them to stay inside or in the shade, giving them cool baths, and urging them to drink plenty of water.

Cities can also take steps to protect residents. Philadelphia hasn’t limited itself to cancelling school when necessary. It’s Office of Emergency Management has prepared a Citywide Excessive Heat Plan to give city agencies, first responders, and nonprofit partners guidance in managing excessive heat events.

But the most effective way to shield ourselves from extreme heat is to curb climate change. Until we reduce the carbon pollution that is fueling global warming, we will continue to face hotter temperatures and more health risks.

This spring the Environmental Protection Agency proposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from new power plants. These standards will help our nation create a 21st century power fleet that uses the latest clean technologies and reduces the threat of climate change.

Already, Americans have sent more than 1.4 million comments to the EPA in support of the standards—the most public comments the agency has ever received on an issue before. If you haven’t already written to the EPA in support of the new standards, I urge you to do so now.

By taking action now, we can help ensure our children and grandchildren will enjoy summer days, not be sickened by them.