Climate change basics
A new interactive map released this week reveals just how radically the climates of United States cities will change in 60 years if emissions continue unabated, according to researchers.
Here’s what scientists expect in that scenario: Boise’s climate will feel like California’s San Joaquin Valley — more than 7 degrees warmer and 77 percent drier in an average summer. Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina will be more like Tallahassee, Florida, by 2080. Fresno’s climate will be similar to modern-day Mexicali, Mexico, on the California border. Fort Worth is expected to feel like today’s New Orleans. And Olympia, the capital of Washington state, will feel more like today’s suburbs of Sacramento, the capital of California.
Other cities could have it even worse, according to researchers who created the map and published their findings as a study on Feb. 12 in the journal Nature Communications.
“Many cities could experience climates with no modern equivalent in North America,” author Matt Fitzpatrick, of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said in a statement.
Click here to use the map yourself. It catalogs climate comparisons for more than 500 urban areas in North America. Those cities include some 250 million residents — about 75 percent of the U.S. population, and about 50 percent of Canada’s, according to the study.
Many cities will feel as hot as areas that are hundreds of miles south today, the study found.
Maryland and North Carolina State University researchers said they hope the map will give people a better way to conceive of what might be inconceivable: How greatly the climate in today’s cities could transform in just decades if planet-warming emissions aren’t reduced.
“It’s my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation,” Fitzpatrick said.
The climate change predictions used in the study aren’t new, Wired reports; what’s new is how Fitzpatrick and the other researchers are presenting the data.
Fitzpatrick explained the map shows that “within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents, or perhaps any generation in millennia.”
The map also shows how each city’s climate would change if emissions dropped as intended to under the Paris Climate agreement — a global accord to cut emissions, which President Trump pledged to leave.
At current emissions levels, Washington, D.C., will feel like Greenwood, Mississippi, by 2080, according to the map. But the nation’s capital will feel like Paragould, Arkansas, by that time if emissions are reduced, the map shows.
The study considered much more than temperature change.
“It also includes the amount precipitation an area receives, when it falls during the year, and how much arrives as snow versus rain,” Fitzpatrick said. “Climate change will lead to not only warming, but also will alter precipitation patterns.”
But just looking at the environmental changes doesn’t fully capture the impact a few degrees and a few inches of precipitation can have on a given city, said Jennifer Marlon, a Yale scientist unaffiliated with the study, National Geographic reports.
“Minneapolis-Saint Paul is going to feel like Kansas City, sure—like Kansas City but with less food, less water, a damaged grid, and all of these other systemic problems we’re walking into if we don’t address climate change,” Marlon said, according to National Geographic.
Experts said the study — and map — could help cities prepare as well.
“One notable outcome of this work is the potential for cities and their analog pairs to transfer knowledge and coordinate climate adaptation strategies,” University of Wisconsin–Madison climate scientist Kevin Burke said, according to Wired.