More Frequent Extreme Heatwaves Commonplace Across the US by 2040

hot season per decade in united states image

image: Noah Diffenbaugh/Stanford Univ.

Just as one extreme snowstorm in winter not meaning the world isn't continuing to warm, one summer heatwave doesn't prove it. That said, the trend is definitely towards more extreme heatwaves, as new research from Stanford University confirms. Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists say that exceptionally long heatwaves could become commonplace in the United States by 2040.Lives and Crop Yields at Greater Risk
Noah Diffenbaugh, study lead author: "Using a large suite of climate model experiments, we see a clear emergence of much more intense, hot conditions in the US within the next three decades." Diffenbaugh notes that in addition to the threat to human life from these heatwaves, these kind of events, "also put enormous stress on major crops like corn, soybean, cotton and wine grapes, causing a significant reduction in yields."

All of which, frankly, climate scientists have been saying for some time and have detailed in numerous studies. But this study took a slightly different approach and found that many severe climate change effects occur before temperature rise even hits 2°C globally.

Historically Longest Heat Wave to Happen Five Times as Often
In this latest study, the team analyzed temperature data from the continental US between the years 1951-1999 to determine the longest heat waves for that time period and then used these results in a number of different climate models. They found that an intense heat wave, equal to the longest on record in the second half of the 20th century, was likely to occur as often as five times between 2020 and 2029 in the central and western portions of the US.

That's just the start of it. The team found that in the 2030s, "Occurrence of the longest historical heat wave further intensifies...including greater than five occurrences per decade over much of the western US and greater than three [occurrences] per decade over much of the eastern US."

Western US Could Face Seven Record Hot Summers by 2030s
Further heat: Temperatures equalling the hottest season on record in the past 60 years could occur four times between now and 2019 across the entire nation. Between 2030 and 2039, most areas of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico could face "at least seven seasons equally as intense as the hottest season ever recorded between 1951 and 1999."

Much of US Faces Persistently Dry Conditions
Summing up the changes, Diffenbaugh said, "By the decade of the 2030s, we see persistent, drier conditions over most of the US. Not only will the atmosphere heat up from more greenhouse gases, but we also expect changes in the precipitation and soil moisture that are very similar to what we see in hot, dry periods historically."

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More on Global Climate Change:
The Link Between Record-Breaking Global Heat Waves and Climate Change
2010 So Far Has Been Hottest Year on Record
NASA Makes It Official: 2000-2009 Was Hottest Decade on Record

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