Exploring Climate Impacts Close to Home

I work in Washington, D.C., where summers are a thermal seesaw between icy office buildings and the hot, sticky streets below. Our disgusting heat and humidity often feature in the origin story of Congress’ annual August recess and an apocryphal tale about hardship pay for visiting diplomats.

Now, there’s a new tool to examine how much worse D.C. summers—and summers across the country—could get as the world continues to dump climate-changing carbon pollution into the air. The Climate Explorer, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) first published in 2014, has just been updated by five federal agencies to allow users to better understand how the climate in their area down to the county level has changed and is projected to change in the future as a result of global warming. This release is particularly timely as D.C. is hit by a week-long heat wave and record heat.

Importantly, the Climate Explorer provides ample reminders that the more we pollute, the worse things will get. Take the two graphs below for the DC area for two possible futures: continued increases in carbon pollution (red line/bar), and declines in carbon pollution after 2040 (blue line/bar). The first graph shows the number of days per year with maximum temperatures over 95 degrees Fahrenheit (Fig. 1), while the second one shows changes in seasonal averages of daily high temperatures (Fig. 2).

Source: NOAA Climate Explorer.

Figure 1: This graph shows how the number of days with daily high temperatures above 95 degrees Fahrenheit could change in D.C. throughout the 21st century. The black represents the observed data from 1950 to 2004. The red represents the estimated change under a high-pollution scenario, and the blue represents the estimated change under a lower-pollution scenario. 

Source: NOAA Climate Explorer.

Figure 2: This graph shows how average daily high temperatures could change in D.C. by the middle of the 21st century. The black line represents the observed average from 1950 to 2004. The red bar represents the estimated change under a high-pollution scenario, and the blue bar represents the estimated change under a lower-pollution scenario. Bars are offset for clarity. 

See what climate change has in store for your part of the country.

As I swelter in today's 95 degree heat this is definitely not a future I'm looking forward to. And it doesn't have to be. Take action here to reduce climate-wrecking pollution.

About the Authors

Antonia Herzog

Deputy Director, Climate & Clean Air program

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