The world is getting hotter, but climate change doesn’t mean bitter cold weather will disappear.
Cold weather causes serious, life-altering problems for people with chronic health conditions.
In Baltimore, low-income people struggling to pay heating bills in drafty homes are most at risk, and the government is struggling to protect them.
CLIMATE CHANGE, PUBLIC HEALTH AND BALTIMORE
Climate change has driven a steady increase in global average temperatures over the last century — and will continue to do so into the future. But that overall increase doesn’t mean extremely cold weather will disappear.
In fact, multiday stretches of extreme cold in places including Baltimore could become more common because of climate change’s effect on weather patterns that pull cold Arctic air into the United States.
Cold poses a great risk not only to the homeless outdoors but also to a much larger population who suffer indoors with chronic health conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which are exacerbated by exposure to low temperatures and reduce life expectancy. In Baltimore, these conditions are more common in low-income neighborhoods, where residents may be struggling to pay heating bills.
Several state and city programs aim to help low-income people and those with chronic health conditions stay warm during the winter. But those efforts fall short of protecting many of the people most at risk in Baltimore, Capital News Service found. Adding to the problem: an increase in utility shutoffs to low-income households just before state-mandated protections kick in at the start of winter.
The cold affects Baltimoreans such as Delores Buchanan, whose neuropathy is worse in the winter. The cost of maintaining her 99-year-old rowhouse and the city’s high fees for water mean she limits the hot baths that ease the numbness in her feet.
And the cold is a problem for Maraizu Onyenaka, who has spent money insulating her northeast Baltimore home against the cold but still feels drafts. Sensors built and installed by Capital News Service reporters found her kitchen temperature fluctuated widely during the winter. The sensor data is part of a year-long reporting project examining the impact of climate change on the health of people in Baltimore.
This report, “Bitter Cold,” focuses on cold weather. Capital News Service — with partners including NPR, the Baltimore Sun and Wide Angle Youth Media — will spend the summer reporting on how the region’s notorious heat and humidity affects the health of Baltimore residents.
Top photo by Julianna Larsen, Capital News Service