The climate crisis threatens to push many Americans into entirely new climatic realities. A new analysis found that 16 US cities risk having summer temperatures akin to those in the Middle East by the end of the century.
Heatwaves have swept through huge parts of the US this summer, putting nearly a third of the population under some sort of heat warning and sending temperatures as high as 46C (115F) in parts of the Great Plains. Hundreds of heat records have fallen, from Boston, Massachusetts, hit the 100F (37C).to Portland, Oregon, which hit 102F (38.9C) on Tuesday.
But global warming can push many places in the US into heat extremes previously thought unthinkable, and long-term shift their climates to conditions now common in places farther south or even far abroad.
An analysis of temperature trends by Climate Central found that summer temperatures in 2100 for many cities will more closely match conditions farther south, averaging 437 miles south, with Washington DC having summers more like Austin, Texas; Boston is becoming more like Philadelphia; and Billings, Montana, similar to El Paso, Texas.
Some US cities could transition to the type of climates that cities in other countries are now experiencing, such as Los Angeles becoming more like Tuxpan in Mexico. A select few could embark on an epic climate journey by the end of the century, when Austin’s summers become like modern-day Dubai, Phoenix resembles Saudi Arabia, and Las Vegas resembles Kuwait.
“The real risks will be in heatwaves, which are now occasional extremes that will last longer,” said Peter Girard, a spokesman for Climate Central, a research organization made up of climate scientists and science communicators. “These types of heatwaves will become normal and the dangers will be much more present. There will be people who have never needed an air conditioner who will be confronted with it. It can quickly go from uncomfortable to dangerous.”
Researchers collected temperature data from 1990 to 2020 to determine today’s “normal” temperature and examined 20 different temperature projections for this century under different climate change scenarios. They decided to compare the status quo to a scenario in which planet-warming emissions are not radically reduced and the average global temperature rises by about 3.6°C by the end of the century.
The world has already warmed by about 1.2°C since pre-industrial times, a situation that has already helped fuel the type of intense heatwaves and wildfires recently experienced in the US and Europe. “Extreme heat is a silent killer, but it’s affecting more Americans than any other weather disaster, especially our nation’s most vulnerable,” said Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser.
Many analysts expect temperature rises to be limited to below 3.6C due to increased renewable energy use, but Girard said even lower warming will result in shifts in climate norms in U.S. cities.
“Regardless of the scenario, this is going to be a near-term challenge pretty much everywhere,” he said. “Reducing emissions will slow the rise in temperature and give governments and cities more time to take action to keep people safe.”