Scorching heat ‘literally off the charts’ may soon be coming to central US, study says

Parts of the Midwest and central United States could soon face what scientists are calling “killer heat,” a study says.

Texas, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Oklahoma are among the states that could regularly see temperatures of more than 120 degrees by mid-century, according to the study by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Texas is already known for its sweltering heat, but the Lone Star State could experience temperatures of more than 120 degrees three to five days a year, the study says. Temperatures could exceed 105 degrees for six to nine weeks, a huge jump from the state’s current average of five to nine days a year.

According to the study, 23 million people in Texas could experience 105-degree heat for a month out of the year.

“Historically, fewer than 50,000 people have been exposed to such frequent and extreme heat in [Texas and Florida] combined,” scientists wrote in the study.

These estimates assume no action will be taken to reduce carbon emissions, the study says. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, most of the country’s carbon emissions come from transportation and electricity production.

In Missouri and southern Illinois, people could see a month’s worth of 120-degree days, the majority of those reaching temperatures “off the charts,” the study says.

By the end of the 21st century, the study says, 60 million people — almost the entire populations of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio — could experience a month of temperatures over 100 degrees.

Scientists caution that with the increased temperatures, heat stroke could become more prevalent and children, seniors and people with disabilities would be at the greatest risk of heat-related illness.

The Union of Concerned Scientists urges communities to work to close the “climate resilience gap” — the degree to which communities are unprepared to deal with the effects of extreme heat — by implementing measures that reduce carbon emissions.

“The emissions paths before us create radically different heat futures,” scientists wrote in the study. “We need to choose the one that limits the worst impacts.”

Founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology more than 50 years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists is a not-for-profit organization of over 250 scientists and analysts working to “use the power of science to address global problems and improve people’s lives.”

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Dawson covers goings-on across the central region, from breaking to bizarre. She is an MSt candidate at the University of Cambridge and lives in Kansas City.