Extreme temperatures pose a serious, long-term health threat for people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, respiratory diseases, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness and multiple sclerosis. We all know that people die of heat stroke in the summer or of heart attacks after shoveling snow. We know a lot less about the long-term effects on large populations of living in extreme heat and cold. Reporters at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland are working with National Public Radio and students at Wide Angle Youth Media in Baltimore on a project to look at how heat and cold in Baltimore homes affect residents' health – particularly as climate change becomes more and more significant. Learn more and get involved.

A broken radiator in the beginning of winter

By Makayla Jefferson

Wide Angle Youth Media
April 30, 2019

It was the beginning of the winter, and the weather was getting colder. My mother had a friend over and she wanted to keep the house warm, so she turned on the radiator. I decided to go to my room, as I was getting bored and on my way there I noticed the radiator was dripping. But first I told my mom the radiator was dripping. She assured me it was nothing to worry about and she would call the maintenance man in the morning.

After sitting on my bed a few minutes later, I heard a loud “BANG” from my parents’ room. I jumped up, startled. I cautiously walked out of my room to see the radiator broken off the wall and boiling hot water was flowing from the breach. I froze, unsure how to respond to what I was seeing. My dad told me to grab a towel but that wasn’t enough; the water was spewing out of the pipe like a broken fire hydrant. Fearing I would burn my feet on the steaming hot water, I ran to put on some boots. I grabbed all the towels and tried to stop the water from getting everywhere. By the time we got all the towels down, the room was starting to flood and it was clear that our makeshift solution would not be enough. The house filled with so much steam that it began to escape out of our windows like white pillowy smoke. The neighbors panicked and called the fire department thinking our house was on fire.

This went on for hours. We called emergency maintenance but they took so long to arrive that the water seeped from my parents’ room into my closet and then into the neighbors’ house, causing another flood. We spent hours sweeping water out of the house. When the maintenance men finally arrived, the flow of water had only gotten stronger. The towels were no longer absorbing anything and water continued to pour down the stairs. The house had gotten impossibly hot and smelled of mildew. That was the winter of 2018. Now, several months later in the spring of 2019, some of the closets still smell of mildew and many rooms still have water stains and damage that have yet to be fixed.

Since that day, I have personally invested my time and interest into exploring how extreme temperatures affect other people’s homes. While my experience may be different from someone else’s, I understand people still lose sleep and time over this serious matter that isn’t really talked about. News outlets rarely talk about the way climate affects single people and lower-income communities. When I look at the newspaper or any other media, I don’t see stories about the way the weather personally affects people. Instead, they talk about the effects of big hurricanes and other natural disasters, failing to inform people about what is happening in their own communities. I feel like that narrative needs to change. With this project, I hope to be a part of making that change.