Sunday, August 24, 2003

Seems like there's a lot of discussion going on about the Southwest Europe heat wave. Straight and simple, here's what happened.

1) It was much, much hotter than usual for much, much longer than usual.
2) Countries prepare for the disasters that are most likely to strike. The South Atlantic states are prepared for hurricanes--but are they ready for blizzards? In Kansas City we're ready for blizzards--but what if we get hit with a hurricane?
3) There's only so much you can protect yourself against. In KC we're ready for pretty good-sized floods but nothing like the flood of '93, the kind of thing that happens only very rarely. I suppose we could spend eight billion extra dollars raising the levees thirty feet or whatever, but would it be worth it? Isn't there something more useful we can do with that cash?
4) The '03 heat wave has been of staggering proportions. In Paris the average daily HIGH temp in July is 79 F. In Barcelona the average daily HIGH in July is 81 F and the average LOW is 66 F. Split the difference and that's an OVERALL average temp of 73.5. In Kansas City the OVERALL average temp in July is 81 F. Now, I personally can testify that KC in the summer is very damn hot, and Barcelona is comparatively cool--its average temp in July is comparable to that of Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis (all about 73 F average in July). But this year in Barcelona we've been averaging 90 F--AVERAGE, not HIGH--for six straight weeks.
5) Imagine what would happen in Boston with a 90 F average (17 F per day above normal) every day for a month and a half. Would Boston be prepared? Hell, no. Old folks and sick people would drop like dot-com stocks. They might be ready for three or five days of 90 F average heat, but any more than that would catch them unready.
6) In France and in Spain people do not have air-conditioning, just like a lot of people in Boston and Minneapolis don't, either. You don't really need it. They don't even have it in a lot of hospitals. This means you SUFFER ALL DAY AND NIGHT instead of living in a nice 72 F A/C house and car and office and going out for an hour in the evening when it gets cooler.
7) Conclusion: We just had a major natural disaster and it's not done--temps hit 95 F today here in B-Ville, with overnight lows around 83 or so. The French figures of 10,000 dead are not exaggerated. The Barcelona metro area figures a total of 900 dead so far, and extrapolated to the rest of Spain that'd be about 9000 for the whole country. You can't blame anybody for an extreme natural disaster. There's no way to be ready for it. And I don't think anybody was particularly negligent, since the heat was so extreme. What we got hit by is a one-in-a-hundred-years summer, the equivalent of a blizzard in LA or a hurricane in Omaha. You just can't pin the blame on the politicians or anything else. It has just been TOO DAMN HOT and there's nothing to be done about it.

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