The new ominous name for the summer was coined by Erika Spanger-Siegfried, an analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. The organization introduced the phrase in a few from blog posts and on social media last week, and the team plans to continue using the phrase as warm-season disasters descend. All 50 states are expected to experience unusually hot temperatures this summer, and with extended droughts across much of the West, these threats could affect the electrical grid and lead to blackouts†
Of course, danger season comes at a different time depending on where you live: In the Southern Hemisphere, summer runs from December to February, when Australia’s bushfires can spiral out of control. But wherever you are, warm weather disasters creep into late spring and early fall, said Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Schools without air conditioning are close for “heat days” more and more often, as they did in Philadelphia at the end of May, when the temperature in the classroom was highest 100 degrees†
Even outside the danger season, numerous climate threats lurk. Keep in mind the devastating floods that hit Washington State and British Columbia in November, causing mudslides across highways and forcing thousands to evacuate. What makes summer particularly threatening are the ways in which disasters can collide and reinforce each other. In the Gulf of Mexico, for example, major hurricanes cut off power and water supplies just as the summer heatwaves set in. “You suddenly have people trying to rebuild their lives, doing that in dangerously hot conditions without any access to refrigeration, to water,” Dahl explained. As extreme heat becomes more common and storms get stronger, “it becomes more and more likely that you will have the coincidence of a heat wave and a major hurricane.”
Part of the thinking behind using the phrase “danger season” is to make it harder for people to mitigate the climate crisis. “I want to say honestly that 10, 15 years ago, when we talked about these things, we didn’t want to scare people,” Cleetus said. “We wanted people to understand the science and be really invited to understand its implications. And now we are afraid, we are terrified, of what we have already unleashed on the world.”
Edward Maibach, the director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said the “danger season” seemed to him to be a helpful framework for helping people realize they need to prepare for recurring disasters rather than respond to them. “Knowing that the seasons of danger are getting longer will hopefully help people, businesses and governments understand that they need to act now to protect the things they value and depend on,” Maibach wrote in an email to Grist.
Dahl called for a “national resilience strategy” that would coordinate efforts to help communities weather disasters and introduce policies to protect people. That means building codes in the West that require buffer space around houses to reduce fire hazards, and national standards for heat protection and smoke protection for outdoor workers. “There’s a lot that can be done locally,” she said, “but we also need to think on a much larger scale.”