A new report from First Street Foundation has some disturbing news. It finds that extreme heat events are expected to impact 8 million Americans in 2023. By 2053, however, 107 million Americans — nearly one third of the US population — are expected to be exposed to extreme heat events. That’s thirteen times as many people as next year. Do we have your attention yet?
Here is the introduction to the report:
“New research from First Street Foundation analyzes the the prevalence of increasing extreme temperatures and dangerous heat wave events throughout the contiguous United States, with a key finding being the incidence of heat that exceeds the threshold of the National Weather Service’s (NWS) highest category for heat, called “Extreme Danger” (Heat Index above 125°F) is expected to impact about 8 million people this year, and grows to impact about 107 million people in 2053, an increase of 13 times over 30 years. 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 First Street Foundation Extreme Heat Model (FSF-EHM) was built using datasets from the US Federal Government, augmented with publicly available and third party data sources, and existing research and expertise on heat modeling. The model estimates localized heat risk at a 30-meter resolution across the United States today and 30 years into the future, creating a high- precision, climate-adjusted heat model that provides insights at a property level. Its analysis combines high-resolution measurements of land surface temperatures, canopy cover, impervious surfaces, land cover, and proximity to water to calculate the current heat exposure, and then adjusts for future forecasted emissions scenarios. This allows for the determination of the number of days any property would be expected to experience dangerous levels of heat.”
The first thing we need to do when analyzing any report is to define the terms it uses. The National Weather Service defines “heat index” as follows.
“The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. This has important considerations for the human body’s comfort. When the body gets too hot, it begins to perspire or sweat to cool itself off. If the perspiration is not able to evaporate, the body cannot regulate its temperature. Evaporation is a cooling process. When perspiration is evaporated off the body, it effectively reduces the body’s temperature.
“When the atmospheric moisture content (i.e. relative humidity) is high, the rate of evaporation from the body decreases. In other words, the human body feels warmer in humid conditions. The opposite is true when the relative humidity decreases because the rate of perspiration increases. The body actually feels cooler in arid conditions. There is direct relationship between the air temperature and relative humidity and the heat index, meaning as the air temperature and relative humidity increase (decrease), the heat index increases (decreases).”
In other words, when high heat and high humidity combine, the human body is unable to cool itself effectively without the aid of fans or air conditioning. Those conditions can lead to heat stroke and other potentially life threatening ailments.
Who Is First Street Foundation?
The mission of the First Street Foundation is to make climate risk information accessible, easy to understand and actionable for individuals, governments, and industry. It has created RiskFactor.com so individuals can assess the risks of flooding, fire, and extreme heat to their own property rather than relying on public data that may be too broad to reveal dangers that effect individual properties or on scientific journals that may be inaccessible to private citizens.
“There has long been an urgent need for accurate, property-level, publicly available environmental risk information in the United States based on open source, peer reviewed science,” First Street says. “In a mission to fill that need, First Street Foundation has built a team of leading modelers, researchers, and data scientists to develop the first comprehensive, publicly available risk models in the United States. Beginning with flood, moving on to wildfire, and now extreme heat, First Street works to correct the asymmetry of information in the market, empowering Americans to protect their most valuable asset–their home while working with industry and government entities to inform them of their risk.”
The First Street Findings
As explained by Axios, here are the key findings of the First Street Extreme Heat Report:
- The developing “Extreme Heat Belt” forms a region of vulnerability from northern Texas to Illinois, and includes the cities of St. Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, Tulsa, and Chicago.
- By 2030, some coastal areas in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic may also experience days with a heat index above 125°F.
The report shows the United States will have to grapple with the effects of increased heat exposure nearly everywhere, though there will be distinctions based on geography.
- The West will have the highest chance for long durations with “local hot days,” which are days that exceed the temperatures typically experienced for a particular area.
- The Gulf and Southeast will see the highest chances and longest duration of exposure to what are termed “dangerous days,” with a heat index greater than 100°F, the report found.
- The states likely to see the greatest growth in dangerous days are Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Florida.
- The counties with the largest changes in dangerous days between 2023 and 2053 are mainly located in Florida, led by Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.
The report shows how the characteristics of heat waves may change in the near future. Many places today see more than 20 straight days with heat indices above 100°F. However by 2053, such streaks could be as many as 74 consecutive days. Texas, Florida, California, Ohio, and Missouri constitute the top 5 states with the biggest cooling demand-related uptick in CO2 emissions between now and 2053.
Last month, America’s overnight lows were the warmest on record for any month. Unusually hot overnight temperatures during heat waves increase the risk to public health of heat-related illness. In addition, the number of warm temperature records outnumbered the cold temperature records by a ratio of nearly eight to one.
If you look at the heat index map created by First Street, you may notice that the hottest areas correspond to the states where climate action and adoption of renewable energy lags the most of all US states. Policies have consequences and it is evident these states are failing to take effective action to protect their residents from looming health and property risks that are fully evident to anyone who cares to look.
While many are busy attacking electric cars for putting a strain on the electrical grid, they simultaneously ignore the strain on the grid that adding more and more air conditioners will create. They also refuse to recognize how the carbon emissions associated with thermal generation of electricity exacerbate the number and severity of extreme heat events.
Ultimately, it will be the insurance industry that decides which regions are safe for human habitation in America. When the losses become too great, insurers will simply stop writing property insurance for those areas. Banks won’t loan money on property that is not insurable and buyers won’t purchase real estate unless they can obtain insurance. At that point, Adam Smith’s unseen hand will do what politicians and talk show host refuse to do. But by then, it may be way too late for many Americans.
Everyone is afraid of change. Everyone would like to turn back the clock to a time when things were thought to be better by one metric or another. But the only constant in life is change. Railing against it won’t stop it. Only embracing change and adjusting to it will give us a hope of surviving the coming onslaught that will result from a planet that has grown too hot for human beings to survive. The time to begin adapting is today.
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