100 million Americans will be in ‘extreme heat belt’ region by 2053

People living in a stretch of the country from Wisconsin to Texas could face dangerously high temperatures each summer, a new study finds

Ethan Freedman
Climate Reporter, New York
Monday 15 August 2022 17:44 BST
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By 2053, more than 100 million Americans will live with intensely hot temperatures in the summer – bringing new and worsened health risks as the climate crisis heats up the planet.

About 8 million people in the US live in counties that are expected to reach above 125 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius) at some point in 2023, a new report finds.

But by 2053, those kinds of extremes could affect 107 million people in the county, in an “extreme heat belt” blanketing about 25 per cent of the US, the report, from the non-profit First Street Foundation, finds.

This drastic expansion of extreme heat risk could be devastating for public health, as high temperatures can cause or exacerbate serious health conditions.

“We need to be prepared for the inevitable, that a quarter of the country will soon fall inside the Extreme Heat Belt with temperatures exceeding 125 degrees Fahrenheit,” First Street CEO Matthew Eby said via a press release.

“And the results will be dire.”

In 2023, a few scattered counties in the US desert southwest, the midwest and the south could expect to hit 125F (52C) at least one day. In thirty years, that risk expands to a large “extreme heat belt” stretching from Texas up into Wisconsin, along the southern east coast and much of Florida, the report finds.

The new “belt” includes major cities like St Louis, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois.

The report also looked at the “heat index” – which combines temperatures and humidity to describe how hot it “feels” on a given day.

Most of the country will see more days with a heat index above 100F (38C) by 2053, while huge areas of Texas, Florida and Louisiana could expect well over 100 days each year with 100F or higher heat indices.

And the heat may not let up, either. Much of the south will see longer periods of consecutive days with a heat index above 100F, with some places seeing up to two straight months of intensely hot weather.

This year, parts of the southern plains have experienced a series of prolonged heatwaves, pushing temperatures well above 100F (38C) for days on end.

The Dallas/Fort Worth area saw 21 straight days with temperatures at or above 100F between mid-July and early August, the National Weather Service (NWS) says.

The region has seen 44 days above 100F already this year, NWS adds, the seventh-most on record so far.

In hot and humid temperatures, people face risks of heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion or even heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition where the body is unable to cool itself down. These effects can be especially dangerous for people like the elderly, young children, and those with pre-existing conditions like heart or respiratory disease.

The growing heat will also bring higher energy demands as people turn on their air conditioners to stay safe and cool. The new report finds that the country is poised to spend hundreds of millions more dollars on energy for cooling in 2053.

All that energy demand could send even more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, spurring even further planetary warming, it adds.

Extreme heat is expected to rise around the world as greenhouse gases, mainly from fossil fuel use, fuel the climate crisis.

So far, the world has warmed about 1.1-1.2C above 19th-century temperatures. If the world were to warm a full 2C, heatwaves that used to occur once every 10 years would happen about every other year and get 2.6C hotter, a UN climate science panel has said.

The world is on track to reach 2.7C of warming by the end of the century, according to the Climate Action Tracker, an independent analysis of global policy.

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