By Shereen Siewert
A new report released this week suggests heat waves like the one central Wisconsin is currently experiencing could become nearly 10 times more common in the next few decades.
The report, released Tuesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, predicts that Wausau and surrounding communities could see 30 days per year with a heat index, or “feels like” temperature, of 90 degrees or greater by 2036. That number is expected to increase to 59 days per year by 2070.
Historically, the Wausau area from 1971 to 2000 saw just six days per year in which the heat index rose to more than 90 degrees.
The changing temperature, mirroring temperatures currently seen southern states such as Alabama, could lead to fatal consequences, according to the report. Extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related deaths, according to the National Weather Service, resulting in hundreds of deaths each year.
The report stems from a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Research Communications and includes both county- and city-level predictions. The Union of Concerned Scientists is a national nonprofit organization founded 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who sought to use the “power of science to address global problems and improve people’s lives,” according to their web page.
Scientists used the average of 18 independent climate models to predict temperature patterns over three-decade periods (2036-2065 and 2070-2099) under three scenarios: the status quo, in which greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unchecked; a slow response, with global warming limited to 2.4 degrees Celsius; and aggressive action to limit warming to 2 degrees, as outlined by the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
Failing to reduce heat-trapping gas emissions “would lead to a staggering expansion of dangerous heat,” the study found. “Across broad swaths of the United States, extreme heat conditions once measured in days per year would need to be measured in weeks or months.”
The report joins a growing number of studies that predicts a host of problems from infrastructure deterioration to lake algae blooms in Wisconsin if temperatures increase an average of 2 degrees over the next 40 years.
But the UCS says aggressive steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions could seriously mitigate the damage.