Springfield News Leader
Climate study predicts Missouri will see days of 125 degree heat index by 2053 as part of ‘heat belt’
Andrew Sullender, Springfield News-Leader – August 18, 2022
Amid this year’s heat wave in southwest Missouri, a new study predicts a new Midwestern ‘heat belt’ to dominate forecasts over the next 30 years.
Released Monday, the peer-reviewed ‘Extreme Heat Model’ created by the First Street Foundation studies the future of climate change in the United States and “identifies the impact of increasing temperatures at a property level, and how the frequency, duration, and intensity of extremely hot days will change over the next 30 years from a changing climate.”
In the study, “Extreme Danger Days” of heat are defined as when heat index exceeds 125 degrees in a given day. A heat index combines the predicted temperature with the predicted humidity. The model predicts only 50 counties next year will experience an Extreme Danger Day of heat. But more than 1,000 counties in the United States will experience days of over 125 degrees by 2053.
More: Heat wave sends drier, hotter temperatures across the Ozarks
The vast majority of these counties are geographically concentrated in the Midwest, the model finds — dubbing the more than quarter of U.S. land mass the “Extreme Heat Belt.” This emerging heat belt stretches from the northern Texas and Louisiana borders to Illinois, Indiana, and even into Wisconsin. Of course, right in the center of the heat belt is all of Missouri.
“Increasing temperatures are broadly discussed as averages, but the focus should be on the extension of the extreme tail events expected in a given year,” said Matthew Eby, founder and CEO of First Street Foundation. “We need to be prepared for the inevitable, that a quarter of the country will soon fall inside the Extreme Heat Belt with temperatures exceeding 125 degrees Fahrenheit and the results will be dire.”
The top five metropolitan areas by the number of impacted neighborhoods expected to experience these Extreme Danger Days are St. Louis, Kansas City, Memphis, Tulsa, and Chicago.
But that does not leave Springfield in the clear. The model breaks down heat impacts by county. A heat wave consists of 3 or more consecutive days where the “feels like” temperature meets or exceeds the local definition of a “hot day.” In Greene County that temperature is 105 degrees.
More: Springfield-Greene Co. health department reports most heat-related illnesses since 2018
According to the model, the likelihood of a 3-day or longer heat wave in Greene County was 18 percent 30 years ago. Today there is a 50% chance of a heat wave in a given year. By 2053, there will be an 88% chance of a heat wave in Greene County each year.
That high likelihood is already being felt in the Ozarks as weeks this summer have seen “feels-like” temperatures exceeding a 100 degrees — including breaking the actual temperature record set in Springfield in 2014. Based on these climate models, Springfieldians should expect hotter summers than the one felt this year.
These high temperatures will have a drastic effect on the well-being and health of those in southwest Missouri, including heatstroke, cardiovascular collapse, and potentially death.
Since warmer air has a higher capacity to hold water, increasing evaporation will result in more humid conditions. Increased average temperatures and humidity have a compounding effect on heat indexes, which make health impacts more likely.
When temperatures reach these extremes, people may take respite in air conditioning, provided they have access to homes or buildings with cooling.
Additionally, increased air conditioning use across an area may strain energy grids, which is likely to be exacerbated by future use as temperatures rise. According to the model, energy costs in Missouri should increase by 15% in the next several decades because of the heat alone — excluding inflation and other factors.
“Rolling blackouts and brownouts may therefore become more common as extreme heat increases in frequency, intensity, and duration over the next 30 years,” reads the study.
Andrew Sullender is the local government reporter for the Springfield News-Leader.