Ninety-four percent of Floridians live in areas experiencing more extreme heat days a year, according to a new study published Tuesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Extreme heat days are defined by the environmental advocacy nonprofit as “hottest summer days” — when daily highs are in the top ten percent of the hottest days on record. Florida has had around two weeks of such days in the last decade.
Analyzing reports from 3,800 weather stations nationwide from 1961 to 1990 and comparing them to weather statistics from the last decade, NRDC researchers concluded 210 million people across the country experienced more dangerously hot days in the last ten years than in previous decades.
“Extreme heat isn’t just an inconvenience – it can kill,” said Dr. Kim Knowlton, senior scientist and deputy director of NRDC’s Science Center. “This analysis gives a sense of the degree to which the present is really not like the past. Climate change is fueling more extremely hot days that pose a clear and present threat to public health.”
Additional research the NRDC cites in its report finds that more than 65,000 people nationwide end up in emergency rooms each summer with heat-related illness and estimated 1,300 additional deaths occurred in major cities from 1975 to 2004.
“Heat can affect our health both directly and indirectly if we have chronic heart conditions, diabetes, obesity or other issues that make us more susceptible to heat,” NRDC special projects coordinator Juanita Constible said.
Constible said although the study doesn’t make predictions about future temperatures, the trend outlined in the report does point to more hotter-than-normal days as time goes on. If the current trendline continues, the state as a whole could see a nine degree increase in average temperatures by 2100, the report said.
In the River City, weather records go as far back as 1871.
“Looking at that comparing to the record going back that far, our first four months we had record warm max temperatures, which ranked number one,” said Scott Cordero, lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.
The first four months of 2017 were the hottest on record for Florida as a whole. Still, Cordero said since then high temperatures have been “near normal” in the area, with only a few exceptions.
However, nightly lows between September 1 and October 24 now have been warmer than normal, which Cordero attributes to a particular pattern of clouds.
“The clouds act like an insulator,” he said. “It doesn’t allow the atmosphere to radiate outward and keeps the warmer air intact. Hence, we have warmer overnight temperatures.”
The NRDC’s Constible said solving the problem of rising temperatures is a long-term goal, but citizens across the country, including Florida, can start preparing now for new, hotter normal.