With summertime rapidly approaching, Virginians are bracing for those days of the year that kind of feel like we’re living inside of someone’s mouth, hot, sticky, and socially uncomfortable. So why do muggy days feel the way they do and what can we expect this summer? These are some of the exact questions that climate scientists are pondering right now too. Is Virginia getting muggier?
Let’s take a moment to think about those gross summer days. You’ve heard the phrase “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” or “It’s so humid you can swim through the air.” and other such statements that we’ve all grown up hearing. So, let’s dig into this and start by chatting about how we feel these humid muggy days.
This feeling is due to the combination of the temperature and the relative humidity in the air – known as the “heat index,” this gives us humans an indication of what our perception of a given day’s temperature would be.
For example, a 94 degree Fahrenheit day with 40% relative humidity has a heat index value around 97°, but the same 94 degree day with 60% humidity means heat index value jumps to 110°, a temperature that health professionals warn can cause serious heat-related illnesses.
Unfortunately for us, that hot and sticky feeling is actually getting more intense. Over the last 35 years or so, the stickiness feeling of our summers has been increasing. On average, a 96° day tends to feel about 3° warmer now than it did in the early 1980s, meaning that we’re already experiencing more intense and more uncomfortable summers.
This is consistent with other evidence that Richmond and Virginia’s climate has already changed and according to scientists, this is expected to get even worse into the future.
But luckily Richmonders already know how to escape the risks of these high temperatures - quality time in front of a breezy fan, or lounging in an air-conditioned room, or swimming in the James River and other cool options. However, for those working outside during these summer days, wearing light, breathable gear and drink an extra re-useable water bottle when it’s near the hottest time of the day, are good ways to help deal with the uncomfortable extreme summer heat!
Together, we can build resilience to extreme heat by recognizing the threat and preparing accordingly. So remember what you’re feeling…well it’s not the heat…it’s the heat AND the humidity!
Richmond humidity chart provided by ClimateCentral.org.