Unlike other natural disasters, extreme heat doesn’t topple buildings, flood streets or turn road signs into missiles. It doesn’t provide a dramatic backdrop for daredevil weather reporters. What it mostly does is kill people, quietly and efficiently. It’s long past time we respect its destructive power, which will only grow as a warming planet makes heat waves more frequent and intense.

This discussion is particularly relevant this week, as a "heat blob” that has punished Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. for months creeps into the Midwest, Northeast and Canada, subjecting possibly 150 million people to unseasonably high temperatures for a miserable stretch of days.

For many Americans, a heat wave is just a nuisance. We’ll sweat through our work clothes and blow out our power bill running the air conditioning. Roads and sidewalks will buckle. Amtrak and public transportation around New York City will lose their spotless reputations for reliable performance (yes, that was sarcasm) as railroad tracks warp and power lines sag.