Study Finds Warming Climate Will Mean More Extreme Heat

Jul 16, 2019

Georgia will see more days of extreme heat as the climate continues to warm.

A study by the advocacy group Union of Concerned Scientists finds that if nothing changes, the state will see an average of 77 days each year with a heat index over 105 degrees by the end of the century.

That's compared to an average of four days a year from 1971 to 2000.

Erika Spanger-Siegfried, one of the report's authors, said that's more heat than most people can get used to.

"We can't adapt and cope our way out of this problem if we don't limit the extent to which heat becomes more extreme in our future," she said. "And that we need to do by tackling our heat-trapping emissions, by making deep cuts."

The report looked at several emissions scenarios, including no action, slow action to reduce emissions and rapid action to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius.

With rapid action, it found Georgia can expect 26 days with a heat index over 105 by the end of the century.

Last year, Savannah spent 37 hours with a heat index of 105 to 109 degrees and 10 hours over 110 degrees, according to data taken at Hunter Army Airfield. At Atlanta's airport, the heat index did not top 105 in 2018.

Those heat conditions will stretch into dozens of days by the end of the century, according to the new report. You can find the predictions for your city here.

Spanger-Siegfried said the study highlights the need to cut heat-trapping emissions like carbon dioxide quickly as well as the need to prepare for more days with extreme heat conditions. And she said those concerns go hand in hand.

"We are going to need more cooling, we are going to need more electricity for air conditioning. If we continue to power air conditioning with dirty power sources to keep our indoors cool," she said, "we'll be essentially further heating the outdoors in the process."

The study also predicts days too hot for the National Weather Service's current heat index formula to calculate. Currently, those "off the charts" conditions only happen in the Sonoran Desert. The report finds that without action, parts of Georgia could see "off the charts" heat for the equivalent of a week or more per year.