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'Florida really tops the charts' of states climate change will heat up, report says

Alex Harris, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- Miamians are already used to stifling heat waves that leave them sprinting from air-conditioned cars to air-conditioned buildings or flocking to the beach to cool off. Or so they think.

But if a new report on climate-change induced global warming is right, residents could feel the heat a lot more by the middle of the century. Scientists from the climate advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists are predicting that the city could go from a couple weeks a year that feel like 100 degrees to nearly four months of scorching hot days, with the rest of Florida not far behind.

High temperatures are linked to all kinds of health problems, from heart and lung conditions to exacerbating mental health issues. In South Florida, almost a dozen elderly people elderly people died when the air conditioning went out after Hurricane Irma. Soaring thermometer readings have already forced some outdoor workers to shift their labor earlier or later in the day.

"Florida really tops the charts on so many different metrics," said Erika Spanger-Siegfried, lead climate analyst for the group. "The southeast region leads the nation, and Florida is the state within that region that will be most affected."

Spanger-Sigfried and her team analyzed historical heat records from 1970 to 2000 to come up with historical averages for cities, counties, states and regions in the lower 48 states, and used 18 different climate models to project temperatures into the future. What they found: with no action to cut carbon emissions, temperatures could soar to harmful, even deadly, levels by mid-century.

High temperatures are historically most common in the southwest, where it got so hot in 2017 that airplanes couldn't take off.

 

But it's not temperature alone that matters for physical well-being. As most Floridians already know, it's not the heat -- it's the humidity.

"Our bodies can cope with high temperatures if we can sweat," said Spanger-Siegfried. "But as the humidity rises, it gets harder for our body to cool."

The heat index is a combination of temperature and humidity that results in a "feels like" temperature.

Right now, there are about 25 days a year that feel like they're above 100 degrees in Florida, like the heatwave last month. Without action to change emissions, scientists estimate there will be 105 of those 100 degree plus days a year in Florida in a few decades, around 2036 to 2065. By late century, that number could climb to 141 days.

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