Photo illustration by Tom Twigg / Grist
By some measures, the Chicago and New York of tomorrow are likely to be hotter than the Atlanta of today — at least in August.
Climate Central’s analysis of projected midcentury August temperatures for 21 major American cities, under a fairly conservative warming scenario, suggests some startling changes ahead. Today, the only cities on the list where more than half of the days in an average August exceed 95° F are Phoenix and Dallas; by the 2050s, Houston, Sacramento, Tampa Bay, and Orlando could join them. Today, seven cities break 90° F on at least half of the days of a typical August; by the 2050s, they could be joined by Atlanta, Denver, Indianapolis, Miami, and Philadelphia. By midcentury, a dozen cities could average more than one day over 100° F per August, where today only three share that dubious distinction. (See below for a list of detailed results for all cities analyzed.)
These patterns match a broad finding in climate research that what seems to be a small amount of general global warming could have a large effect on weather extremes–including extreme heat events, which are forecast to become more frequent, more intense, and longer lasting (see U.S. Climate Change Science Program report).
Extreme weather and climate events can cause significant damages, and heat waves are considered public health emergencies. Hot temperatures contribute to increased emergency-room visits and hospital admissions for cardiovascular disease, and can cause heat stroke and other life-threatening conditions.
Events such as the Chicago heat wave of 1995 and the 2003 European heat wave [PDF], which killed an estimated 40,000 people, have proven especially deadly to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and persons with respiratory illnesses.
Climate Central used established scientific methods (more detail on the next page) to take results averaged from 12 major global climate models and apply them to 21 American cities. The resulting projections should be taken not as concrete predictions but rather as best guesses within a range of uncertainty. However, all 12 models used are unanimous in projecting more hot days by the middle of the century than we have today. For its projections, Climate Central used a moderate-high scenario of greenhouse-gas emissions. The scenario and resulting projections of risk currently appear to be conservative, since global emissions have exceeded the scenario in recent years.
Find out more and watch city-specific videos at Climate Central.
Average number of days each August over …
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