Midwest cities see increase in dangerously hot weather: report

Wed Jul 25, 2012 8:15am EDT

1 of 4. Corn plants struggle to survive on a drought-stricken field in Oakland City, Indiana, July 24, 2012.Welcome rains provided some relief to heat-stressed cities and worried farmers in the U.S. Midwest on Tuesday, but reports of failed crops, wildfires and other fallout from the worst U.S.drought in more than 50 years tempered any optimism. The first soaking rains for weeks in parts of the northern Midwest sent U.S. corn and soybean prices sharply lower. But those prices still hover around record highs with weather forecasts for August indicating more heat is on the way.

Credit: Reuters/ John Sommers II

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(Reuters) - Dangerously hot summer days have become more common across the U.S. Midwest in the last 60 years, and the region will face more potentially deadly weather as the climate warms, according to a report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Wednesday.

The report looked at weather trends in five major urban areas - Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Minneapolis and St. Louis - along with weather in nearby smaller cities such as Peoria, Illinois, and Toledo, Ohio. The report focused on the Midwest because of its numerous major population centers, and because it is projected to face more heat waves with climate change.

The report found that the number of hot, humid days has increased, on average, across the Midwest since the 1940s and 1950s, while hot, dry days have become hotter.

Finding relief from the heat during the summer has become more difficult, as all the cities studied now have fewer cool, dry days in the summer, and nighttime temperatures during hot periods have risen.

"Nighttime is typically when people get relief, especially those who don't have air conditioning," said Steve Frenkel, Union of Concerned Scientists' Midwest office director. "The risks of heat-related illness and death increase with high nighttime temperatures."

The report found that heat waves lasting three days or longer have become more common. St. Louis, for example, has more than doubled its number of three-day heat waves since the 1940s. Studies have linked at least three consecutive days of high temperature and humidity to more deaths.

Extreme heat and humidity can be lethal. In Chicago, more than 700 deaths were attributed to a heat wave in July 1995. More recently, extreme heat in Russia in 2010 led to an estimated 55,000 deaths.

With more extreme summertime heat, annual deaths in Chicago are projected to increase from 143 from 2020-2029 to 300 between 2090-2099, according to the report.

The report warned that conditions could get much worse if emissions of gases believed to cause global warming continue at their current pace, or at a higher pace.

Chicago, for example, could see more than 70 days with temperatures of 90 Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) each year toward the end of the century, on average, if emissions continue at the current pace. Under a higher-emissions scenario, dangerously hot days over 100 F (38 C) in Chicago could increase dramatically, producing a month of such days, the report said.

Hot, humid temperatures are tougher on the elderly, whose percentage in the population is increasing. About 20 percent of U.S. residents are projected to be over age 65 by 2030, up from about 13 percent now, according to the report.

"We must take preventative measures to protect public health during extreme heat events, but the only way to ensure these heat waves are not a threat in the future is by reducing the harmful emissions that are driving them in the first place," said Frenkel.

Though the study focused on weather in the last six decades through 2011, the summer of 2012 has so far reflected a continued warming trend.

June temperatures contributed to a record-warm first half of the year and the warmest 12-month period the nation has experienced since recordkeeping began in 1895, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In the Midwest, the U.S. corn yield is seen at a 10-year low due to an expanding drought.

(Additional reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (1)
The droughts, floods, more precipitous winters, and increasingly violent storms are exactly what the climate science models have been predicting for the last 30+ years due to man-made Global Warming.

In 1996, shortly before his death, Carl Sagan published a book of his essays, “Billions and Billions”. In the chapter about the environment and GW, he reiterates the consensus among climate scientists at the time that, “to avert disaster, we need to cut our C02 emissions in half by 2015″.

In circa 1995, we were emitting 7 Billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per annum worldwide. Today, we are emitting 36 gigatons per annum. 36 BILLLLION TONS per year!!! And the amount is only going to increase for the foreseeable future if not the next 50+ years.

For all of you Global Warming deniers who think that climate and Earth scientists and others are “alarmists”, I’ve got news for you. They use the terms “Global Warming” and “Climate Change” to AVERT panic! What we’re really witnessing is the beginnings of a Runaway Greenhouse Effect (RGE).

In the last 40 years, worldwide global average temperature has increased over 3 degrees F. It’s only going to get hotter, and it’s only a matter of time before most of the Arctic ice is gone, and the Antarctic begins to melt as well. RGE.

When this happens, the permafrost of the vast tundras of Canada and Siberia will begin to thaw, releasing untold gigatons of CH4 (methane), which is a 20 TIMES MORE POWERFUL greenhouse gas than is CO2 and remains in the atmosphere longer. This will cause yet more and faster warming. RGE

In tandem with this, as the ice caps and polar ice melt, the Earth’s surface will absorb yet more heat, because ice is white and reflects heat, causing still more warming because all the CH4 and CO2 will block that heat from re-radiating back to space (RGE).

Meanwhile, due to all that melting ice, the atmosphere will continue to increase in moisture content, causing more warming and more violent storms. RGE.

It is a vicious cycle of cause and effect and effect and cause as the Earth’s natural systems try to seek an equilibrium. And she’s not going to be able to do that because we are only going to increase our output of CO2 and CH4, while simultaneously bulldozing forests around the world for agriculture to feed our 7 Billion people and for commercial development.

[100,000 acres worldwide are plowed under and blacktopped daily. (7,000 acres a day in the US alone, according to Nat'l Geographic.)]

I’m glad I chose not to have children. Good luck humanity, you’re going to need it. And I apologize for my fatalism, but that’s how I see it. And I don’t mean to imply that there’s absolutely no hope. But people had better stop listening to Rush Limbaugh (a bag of pontificating hot air himself) and Fox “news”, and start taking this seriously.

And for that dimwit know-nothing (Limbaugh) to say that Global Warming is a “hoax” is patently ridiculous. Whom are you going to listen to, Rush, or 98% of the world’s climate scientists?

Jul 25, 2012 10:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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