The new foreboding name for summer was coined by Erika Spanger-Siegfried, an analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The organization introduced the phrase in a pair of blog posts and on social media last week, and the team plans to keep using the expression as warm-season disasters descend. All 50 states are expected to experience unusually high temperatures this summer, and with extended drought across much of the West, these threats could strain the electric grid and lead to blackouts.
Of course, danger season comes at a different time depending where you live: In the southern hemisphere, summer runs from December to February, when the Australian bushfires can get out of control. No matter where you are, though, warm-weather disasters are creeping into the late spring and early fall, said Rachel Cleetus, a policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Schools without air-conditioning are closing for “heat days” more and more often, as they did in Philadelphia in late May, when classroom temperatures topped 100 degrees.
Plenty of climate threats lurk outside danger season, too. Consider the devastating floods that hit Washington state and British Columbia in November, sending mudslides over highways and forcing thousands to evacuate. What makes summer particularly threatening is the ways that disasters can collide and compound one another. In the Gulf of Mexico, for instance, major hurricanes have knocked out power and water services just as summer heat waves set in. “You suddenly have people who are trying to rebuild their lives, who are doing so in dangerously hot conditions without any access to cooling, to water,” Dahl explained. As extreme heat becomes more frequent and storms get stronger, “it becomes more and more likely that you’re going to get 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 sugarcoat the climate crisis. “I just want to say straight-up, frankly, 10, 15 years ago, when we would talk about these things, we didn’t want to scare people,” Cleetus said. “We wanted people to understand the science and really be invited into understanding the implications. And now we’re scared, we’re terrified, for what we have already unleashed on the world.”
Edward Maibach, the director of George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said that “danger season” struck him as a useful framing to help people realize they need to prepare for recurring disasters instead of reacting to them. “Knowing that danger seasons are getting longer will, hopefully, help people, businesses, and governments recognize the need to take actions 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 put policies in place to protect people. That means building codes in the West that require buffer space around homes to reduce fire danger, and national heat protection and smoke protection standards for outdoor workers. “There’s a lot that can be done locally,” she said, “but we also need to be thinking at a much bigger scale.”