Experts have predicted that an ” extreme heat belt ” will settle over the U.S. by the middle of this century.
Nonprofit group First Street Foundation has modeled how the intensity of heatwaves will change across the country over the coming years.
Key findings from its report indicate that millions of people will be affected by extreme heat in the next few decades, and these effects will be worse in the landlocked states.
The “extreme heat belt”, as dubbed by the researchers, will span 13 states across the South and Midwest , from parts of Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana through Oklahoma, Missouri, Tennessee, Iowa, Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois, and the borders of Nebraska. Other states affected outside of this cluster will be California, Arizona, Nevada, as well as Florida and the Carolinas on the East Coast.
In 2023, the model finds that 50 counties, home to over 8 million people, will experience temperatures over 125F, which is the highest level of the National Weather Services’ heat index. By 2053, however, this number will increase to 1,023 counties, affecting nearly 110 million people.
“This increase in ‘Extreme Danger Days’ is concentrated in the middle of the country, in areas where there are no coastal influences to mitigate extreme temperatures,” the authors wrote in the report.
Climate change is only exacerbating the problems facing the U.S. in terms of dealing with heat: increased temperatures are driving heat waves and drought conditions , and making extreme weather more likely. Temperatures are expected to increase by a minimum of 2.5F across the country over the next three decades, but the effects of these changes will be worse in some areas compared to others.
“Increasing temperatures are broadly discussed as averages, but the focus should be on the extension of the extreme tail events expected in a given year,” Matthew Eby, founder and CEO of First Street Foundation, said in a statement.
The most extreme change in local temperatures is expected in Miami-Dade County in Florida. Temperatures of 103F, the hottest recorded in the county, occured on seven days of the year. By 2053, these temperatures could be seen across 34 days.
The worry is that while southern states may have the infrastructure and equipment available to deal with intense heat, the Midwest and north aren’t used to handling these kinds of temperature. Additionally, many of the states in the extreme heat belt have experienced rapid population growth during the pandemic.
“These increases in local temperatures result in significant implications for communities that are not acclimated to warmer weather relative to their normal climate. This reality suggests that a 10 percent temperature increase in Maine can be as dangerous as a 10 percent increase in Texas, even as the absolute temperature increase in Texas is much higher,” wrote the authors.
Additionally, the amount of CO2 released from the use of air conditioning is expected to increase, furthering the vicious cycle of climate change.
“Texas and Florida are by far the largest consumers of energy for cooling purposes in the U.S,” wrote the authors. “This high demand is driven by the intersection of the greater number of properties and the extreme number of CDDs in the local area [cooling degree days: the annual sum of the difference between daily high temperatures and the target cooling temperature]. In both cases, the current levels of CO2 emissions from cooling exceed 30 billion pounds and are expected to grow to around 35 billion pounds over the next 30 years.”
The First Street Foundation’s Extreme Heat Model allows property owners to check the predicted heat conditions for their area over the next few years.