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Stanford Medicine

Global Health, Stanford News

Number of heat waves will grow in coming decades

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After a nasty blizzard temporarily disabled Washington this winter, conservative politicians and pundits jammed the airwaves with claims the storm “contradicted Al Gore’s hysterical global warming theories.” Their myopia was derided by climate scientists and Stephen Colbert alike, who said on his show: “Now folks, that is simple observational research: Whatever just happened is the only thing that is happening. Ask any peekaboo-ologist.”

Still, in the wake of the storm, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration decided to cancel its scheduled announcement of a Climate Service office, which would keep the public up-to-date on on global warming. Timing matters.

Now, with the East Coast woozy from a humid heat wave, it’s the climate scientists’ turn to spread their message. A press release today highlights a Stanford study showing heat waves and extremely high temperatures could be commonplace in the U.S. by 2039:

According to the climate models, an intense heat wave – equal to the longest on record from 1951 to 1999 – is likely to occur as many as five times between 2020 and 2029 over areas of the western and central United States. The 2030s are projected to be even hotter…

The Stanford team also forecast a dramatic spike in extreme seasonal temperatures during the current decade. Temperatures equaling the hottest season on record from 1951 to 1999 could occur four times between now and 2019 over much of the U.S., according to the researchers.

The 2020s and 2030s could be even hotter, particularly in the American West. From 2030 to 2039, most areas of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico could endure at least seven seasons equally as intense as the hottest season ever recorded between 1951 and 1999, the researchers concluded.

“Frankly, I was expecting that we’d see large temperature increases later this century with higher greenhouse gas levels and global warming,” [Noah] Diffenbaugh said. “I did not expect to see anything this large within the next three decades. This was definitely a surprise.”

The extreme weather events that are projected to increase with global warming have significant health consequences, as reported recently by my colleague Michelle Brandt.

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