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If Florida’s steamy summers feel like they’re getting hotter, that’s because they are, according to a new report.
In a review of temperatures from more than 3,000 weather stations nationwide, the Natural Resources Defense Council found the number of days with “extreme heat” — when searing temperatures trigger health concerns — is increasing. During average Florida summers, more than 14 days hit the mark.
About 94 percent of the state’s population — more than 18 million people — live in areas that recorded extreme heat days, according to the report. Nationwide, 210 million Americans live in places where dangerously sweltering days can occur.
“It gave us a sense of the way the past is no longer the present,” NRDC senior scientist and deputy director Kim Knowlton said in a press call. “Temperatures locally are really changing.”
The data, which compared records from the last decade to temperatures recorded between 1961 and 1990, also provides a glimpse at what the sunshine state, and hottest parts of the country, can expect from a warming planet.
Since 1895, temperatures nationally have risen on average about 1.5° Fahrenheit, with most of that occurring after 1970, the report said. If carbon emissions continue at the current pace, average temperatures are expected to rise between five and 10 degrees. Florida could see a nine-degree increase in average temperatures by 2100, the report said.
That increase is expected to produce more than just aggravation. Extreme heat days are tied to a slew of illnesses, especially among the old and very young. This year, Irma provided a tragic example of how dangerous stifling heat can be when 14 residents at a Hollywood nursing home died after the hurricane knocked out power to the facility’s air-conditioner.
“Extreme heat events already cause more deaths in a typical year than any other weather event,” said Dr. Linda Rudolph, director of the Center for Climate Change and Health at the nonprofit Public Health Institute. “And climate change is causing more extreme heat days. So it’s important to understand we can reduce heat deaths and heat illness by taking common sense steps.”
This is not the first time Florida has appeared high on the list of places expected to be hit by rising temperatures. Last year, a similar report by Climate Central put Florida first among states likely to experience a dangerous combination of heat and humidity — driving heat index temperatures to 104 degrees — under climate change predictions.
That report also ranked Miami first in the number of days expected to top 90 degrees across the nation.
This year also set new records for high temperatures across Florida and the southeast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In publishing the report, Knowlton said the NRDC hopes to draw attention to the need to address heat risks, which can get overlooked among the more dire impacts linked to climate change like sea rise, intensifying hurricanes and more wildfires. Public officials, she said, need to stay committed, now more than ever, to limiting carbon pollution while preparing for the risks from heat impacts, including urban heat islands in cities where the poor and elderly are at greater risk.
“The public health infrastructure must be strengthened,” Rudolph said. “When air-conditioning can literally save lives, we need to make sure people have access.”