Report: Killer heat could plague region if climate change left unchecked 

  • People enjoy a summer day at the DAR State Forest in Goshen, Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve and Ramona Reno with their grandson, Mikey Reno, at the DAR State Forest in Goshen, Tuesday afternoon, July 16, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Steve and Ramona Reno with their grandson, Mikey Reno, at the DAR State Forest in Goshen, Tuesday afternoon, July 16, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jane Lohman with Gianluca Pica-Smith,7 and Gianluca's mother, Chinzia Pica at the DAR in Goshen Tuesday afternoon, July 16, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 7/16/2019 11:45:04 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Later this week, temperatures in western Massachusetts are expected to climb into the 90s, reaching a possible high of 98 degrees Saturday.

And there might be more sweltering days in the not-too-distant future if no or little action is taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change, according to a report published Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) titled “Killer Heat in the United States.”

The report predicts how frequently temperatures will go above 90, 100 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit on the heat index — a National Weather Service measurement that combines temperature and relative humidity to estimate how hot it feels outside — in the United States between April and October at two periods of time in the future. The first period is halfway through the century, defined as 2036 to 2065, and the second is at the end of the century, defined as 2070 to 2099.

The report calculates these statistics for every county in the country under several scenarios: no action is taken to cut emissions this century; some action is taken and greenhouse gas emissions decline midcentury; and swift action is taken to keep the average global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius or below, the same level the Paris Agreement set as a goal.

“Our analysis shows a hotter future that’s hard to imagine today,” Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the UCS and an author of the report, said in a statement.

The UCS is a national nonprofit made up of scientists, policy experts and analysts. A corresponding scientific paper with the findings was also published Tuesday in Environmental Research Communications, a peer-reviewed journal.

If emissions are not cut, the average number of days nationwide that feel like 100 degrees, according to the heat index, will increase more than twofold by the middle of the century and fourfold by the end of the century, compared to temperatures between 1971 and 2000. At that level, the National Weather Service says to take “extreme caution” outdoors to avoid heat illness.

Hampshire County

As a baseline for comparison, researchers calculated the average number of extreme heat days between 1971 and 2000. Over that period of time, Hampshire County has had, on average, no days annually where the heat index topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the report. Without declines in greenhouse gas emissions, the county will have a predicted 10 days each year with the heat index topping 100 degrees by the middle of the century and 27 each year by late in the century. The end of the century number could be cut down to four in Hampshire County with significant cuts to emissions, according to the report.

“What we’ll experience this week, the hottest day, we’re expected to get that possibly 27 days each year by the end of the century,” said Michael Rawlins, associate director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, echoing the findings of the report.

Between 1971 and 2000, Hampshire County also had an annual average of no days with a heat index above 105, a level the National Weather Service says is likely to cause sunstroke, heatstroke or exhaustion with prolonged exposure. If current trends continue, the report predicts there will be 15 of those days each year on average late this century, but if greenhouse gases are seriously curbed, there will be only one.

“Clearly, if we take no action, climate model projections indicate a substantial increase in the number of dangerously hot days throughout this century,” Ambarish Karmalkar, a UMass research assistant professor at the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center and Department of Geosciences, wrote in an email to the Gazette. “But there are clear benefits if we do act.”

The report says that some groups will be more affected than others, including those who work outdoors, like on farms or construction sites, and low-income people, as they often have less access to air conditioning or transportation to a cooler space.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.
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