Climate change could break the heat index

A man lays down in the shade in Boston's Copley Square in this 2018 file

A man lays down in the shade in Boston's Copley Square in this 2018 file

The report from the Union of Concerned Scientists and analysis titled, "Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days", says that almost everywhere, people will experience more days of unsafe heat without action to reduce heat-trapping emissions.

The number of days each year in MA with an average heat index over 90 degrees will more than quadruple by mid-century if nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions, according to a new report.

"Our analysis shows a hotter future that's hard to imagine today", study co-author Kristina Dahl, a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. "These rising temperatures are causing more days of unsafe - even deadly - heat locally".

Throughout the United States, the impact of continuing carbon emissions and the effect they have on increasing temperatures are expected to be more severe, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists report.

She said the study focused on changes we can expect in the heat index, the National Weather Service's "feels-like" temperature rating.

Such "off-the-charts" conditions could pose unprecedented health risks, the Union of Concerned Scientists said.

"The rise in days with extreme heat will change life as we know it nationwide, but with significant regional differences", said Rachel Licker, senior climate scientist at UCS and report co-author. It predicted that by the middle-third of the century, Androscoggin, Kennebec and York counties would have the highest hot-day frequency averages in Maine. By midcentury, these "off-the-charts" conditions would extend to other parts of the country, and areas now home to more than 6 million people would be subjected to them for the equivalent of a week or more per year on average. This figure will increase to 54 by the latter part of the century. It combines levels of humidity with actual degrees to produce a "real-feel" temperature.

The Southeast and Southern Great Plains regions of the country, UCS notes, "would bear the brunt of the extreme heat", but so-called "off-the-charts" days would be experienced by states and regions that rarely or ever see such days now, including much of the Midwest region.

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By late-century, with slow action on climate change, Staten Island would experience 55 days per year with a heat index exceeding 90 degrees, 17 days with a heat index exceeding 100 degrees and seven days with a heat index over 105 degrees.

For the study, UCS scientists used four heat-index thresholds, each of which brings increasingly unsafe health risks - above 90 degrees, above 100 degrees, above 105 degrees and "off the charts".

More than 6 million people would experience "off-the-charts" heat days for the equivalent of a week or more per year on average.

It's not the heat, it's the ... killer heat index.

By 2050, hundreds of American cities could see an entire month each year with heat-index temps topping 100 degrees if nothing is done to rein in global warming, the scientists found. The only place in the US that experiences such off-the-charts heat index values in an average year is the Sonoran Desert, on the border between California and Arizona, according to the report.

Meanwhile, the number of days where the heat index exceeds 105 degrees is estimated to increase more than four-fold to 24 by mid-century.

"If we wish to spare people in the United States and around the world the mortal dangers of extreme and relentless heat, there is little time to do so and little room for half measures", according to the report.

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