Find your climate-altered future on a new interactive map

By: Timothy Wheeler, BayJournal.com

Ever had trouble picturing how climate change could alter the quality of life in your community? Now there’s a map for that.

By 2080, summers in Washington, DC, could feel more like the summers in Greenwood, MS, feel now. (Dave Harp)
By 2080, summers in Washington, DC, could feel more like the summers in Greenwood, MS, feel now. (Dave Harp)

Using a statistical technique called “climate-analog mapping,” two researchers have matched hundreds of cities in the United States and Canada with places that currently have the climate those cities are projected to have decades hence.

“Within the lifetime of children living today, the climate of many regions is projected to change from the familiar to conditions unlike those experienced in the same place by their parents, grandparents, or perhaps any generation in millennia,” Matt Fitzpatrick, an associate professor with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said in a press release about the study. It was published today in Nature Communications.

Fitzpatrick and co-author Robert Dunn of North Carolina State University analyzed climate conditions in 540 urban areas across North America. Based on projections of the conditions expected by 2080, they sought to match communities large and small in the United States and Canada with places where the current climate approximates those projections.

“We can use this technique to translate a future forecast into something we can better conceptualize and link to our own experiences,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s my hope that people have that ‘wow’ moment, and it sinks in for the first time the scale of the changes we’re expecting in a single generation.”

Residents of Baltimore, for instance, could look about 1,000 miles southwest to Cleveland, MS, for an idea of how their summers could feel by 2080 if nothing is done to address greenhouse gas emissions. On average, Cleveland’s summers now are 6 degrees Fahrenheit hotter. Residents of the Washington, DC, area can look just a little farther south to Greenwood, MS, where the summers are 6.4 degrees F. hotter.

Winters, in comparison, could be even warmer. Those living in Richmond should look 1,300 miles away to Huntsville, TX, where the typical cold season is 11.7 degrees F. above the current average winter temperature for Virginia’s capital. Residents of Harrisburg could journey almost as far to the southwest to Jonesboro, AR, where it’s typically 9.5 degrees F. warmer this time of year.

The study on which the interactive map is based looked at climate change projections for 2080 and paired cities with other locations where the current climate approximates those projections. (Source: UMCES)
The study on which the interactive map is based looked at climate change projections for 2080 and paired cities with other locations where the current climate approximates those projections. (Source: UMCES)

The map pairings can provoke head scratching in some cases. Baltimore and Richmond, for instance, are expected to be both warmer and wetter in a climate-altered future. But their “matching” communities in Mississippi and Texas are drier in summer now than either of those cities are projected to be.

Fitzpatrick said they limited their analysis to the western hemisphere north of the equator. So, in some cases, they couldn’t find exact matches for all climate conditions.

“There aren’t places currently within the study domain we considered that have the same precipitation and temperature patterns expected in Baltimore and Richmond in 2080,” he said. Even so, he hoped that the study “gives people the sense of the magnitude of changes that could come to pass.”

To convey some notion of the degree to which climate change might still be lessened, the study also produced a set of community comparisons based on the assumption that the United States and the rest of the world takes steps soon to significantly curb climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions, along the lines of the Paris Agreement. Baltimoreans, in that case, could expect to experience summer temperatures like those found now in Jonesboro, AR, which tends to be 5.2 degrees F. hotter that time of year. The difference in the scenarios might seem small, but Jonesboro is 200 miles north of Greenwood, MS.

Try the map here.  Be warned, though: It might require some patience. The website was so popular when it launched that it crashed the host system.

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