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‘Extreme heat belt’ will affect 100 million people by 2053: report

An area of ​​extremely hot weather – a so-called “extreme heat belt” – with at least one day a year when the heat index reaches 125 Fahrenheit (52C), is expected to cover a US region home to more than 100 million people by 2053, according to a new study.

The research, led by the nonprofit First Street Foundation, used a peer-reviewed model built with public and third-party data to estimate heat risk at what they called a “hyper-local” scale of 30 square meters.

The mission of the First Street Foundation is to make climate risk modeling accessible to the public, governments and industry representatives, such as real estate investors and insurers.

One of the key findings of the study was that heat exceeding the threshold for the National Weather Service’s highest category – called “extreme danger”, or above 125F – was expected to affect 8.1 million people in 2023 and reach 107 million people in 2053, a 13-fold increase.

This would encompass a geographic region stretching from northern Texas and Louisiana to Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin – inland areas away from the more temperate climate often seen near the coasts.

Heat index, also known as apparent temperature, is what the outside temperature actually feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with air temperature.

To create their model, the research team looked at land surface temperatures and air temperatures obtained by satellite between 2014 and 2020, to help understand the exact relationship between the two measurements.

This information was studied in more detail taking into account the altitude, the way water is absorbed in the area, the distance to surface water and the distance to a coast.

The model was then fitted to future climate conditions, using an “intermediate” scenario envisioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which carbon dioxide levels begin to decline by mid-century, but do not reach net zero in 2100.

Beyond the “extreme danger” days, regions across the country are expected to experience warmer temperatures, with varying degrees of resilience.

“These increases in local temperatures have important implications for communities that are not acclimatized to warmer weather relative to their normal climate,” the report said.

For example, a 10% temperature increase in the northeastern state of Maine can be as dangerous as a 10% increase in the southwestern state of Texas, despite the higher absolute temperatures observed in Texas.

The largest predicted local temperature change has occurred in Miami-Dade County, Florida, which currently experiences seven days a year at its hottest temperature of 103 Fahrenheit. By 2053, this number is expected to increase to 34 days at 103 degrees.

And the increase in air conditioning use likely to result from these temperature spikes will strain energy networks, the report warns, leading to more frequent and longer lasting brownouts.

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