New Studies Point to More Extreme Heat and Storms in the U.S.

Debris from 2017’s Hurricane Irma       Photo: Carlo Allegri, Reuters

A study by The Earth Institute at Columbia University published last Friday in the Journal Science Advances found that the combined effect of extreme heat and humidity (known as the “wet bulb index”) is already exceeding in some locations for short durations of time the level that scientists thought would be the threshold of human survivability.  Plus new government research found that by 2050, approximately one in three or 118 million Americans could experience one or more extreme weather events annually if population and greenhouse gas emissions trends continue, which is a doubling of the number of Americans exposed to climate-related disasters.

Why This Matters:  High heat and humidity combined is happening more frequently around the globe due to climate change and has already resulted in massive death tollsMoreover, the evidence is also now clear that extreme weather events and other forms of climate‐related threats to the economy, human health, and ecosystems are on the rise.  Since 1980, our country has incurred, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a total of $1.75 trillion in losses from climate‐related disasters and irreparably damaged tens of thousands of lives.  And that is in addition to pandemic losses.

Disastrous Events
The study on disasters, conducted by the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows that by 2050 the number of people impacted in the U.S. will more than double — currently 47 million Americans experience extreme heat and cold, prolonged droughts, and intensifying floods. And it reflects the greater frequency of climate disasters nationwide, the researchers said.  E&E News reported on the findings, which were published in Earth’s Future, and they are based on supercomputer simulations of county-level data from NOAA.  The scientists used records from 1996 to 2005 and compared it to real and projected conditions between 2011 and 2050 using a representative greenhouse gas concentration under the “business as usual” scenario. Even if they assumed no population increase by 2050, the analysis estimates that 94 million Americans would face one or more extreme climate events annually by midcentury, still doubling the number who are currently experiencing climate extremes.
Heat and Humidity Worse
When temperatures go above 95 degrees, humans have to sweat to maintain their ideal body temperature but when at the same time the humidity exceeds 75% or so, this is no longer possible.  One of the Earth Institute study authors told CNN, “I was astonished by our findings…My previously published study projected that these conditions would not take hold until later in the century…”We may be at a closer tipping point than we think.”  The author, Radley Horton of Columbia University says,”[c]limate change is increasing both air temperatures and the amount of moisture in the air, making humid heat events more frequent and severe.” In particular, in the U.S., New Orleans and Biloxi, Mississippi have experienced extreme conditions dozens of times along with cities along the Florida Panhandle and also in eastern Texas.

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