How will climate change warm your city?

Graphic: Matt Fitzpatrick/University of Maryland

Each year extreme heat kills more Americans than any other extreme weather event and for many cities, the future means that average highs will only continue to rise.  As CNN reported, the past five years have already been the hottest on record for our planet, but new projections published yesterday in the journal Nature Communications predict that it’s going to get a lot hotter for the 250 million people living in North American cities. Taking it a step further, Dr. Matt Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science helped create a new interactive map to translate global forecasts into something that’s less remote, less abstract, that’s more psychologically local and relevant.

As Wired explained, Fitzpatrick looked at 540 urban areas in North America using three primary datasets. One captured current climatic conditions (an average of the years between 1960 and 1990), the second contained projections of future climates, and the third provided historic climate variability from year to year taken from NOAA weather records. (Depending on the city, climate might be more “stable,” or swing more wildly between years.) The researchers considered temperature and precipitation in particular, though of course these aren’t the only two variables when modeling the climate—more on that in a bit.

Why This Matters: If you play around with the interactive map it makes warming trends really tangible. It’s one thing to read that your city will be 8 degrees warmer on average in 60 years, it’s another thing to have a reference city that currently has a similar climate. For instance, here in DC, our 60-year projection will make our climate closer to Greenwood, MS which is almost 10 degrees warmer and 72% wetter. Considering how hot and humid summers here already are it’s a stark statistic. But for cities like San Francisco which is projected to have a climate closer to that of present-day Palos Verdes, CA, increased summer heat will be a problem in a city where most people don’t own air conditioners.

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