How Climate Change Will Turn NYC Into Oklahoma City In One Generation

How Climate Change Will Turn NYC Into Oklahoma City In One Generation

In 2100, Earth’s climate will have changed. But what will that feel like in your everyday life? Now, a high school student working with an atmospheric scientist has extrapolated some answers from climate data, and found that New York City’s climate will be like Oklahoma City’s in less than a century.

A study published today in Nature‘s Scientific Reports illustrates just how radical the climate changes may be. High school student Yana Petri worked with Carnegie Institution for Science researcher Ken Caldeira to find out how our rapidly-warming world will affect how we heat and cool our homes. As they note, it’s an important question, since heating and air conditioning end up being 41 per cent of the energy use in the average US home.

The study’s methodology was straightforward: They used a model for climate change called RCP8.5, which is the standard scenario for a future in which greenhouse emissions remain at high levels — in short, it’s what will happen if nothing changes. It’s one of many possible scenarios developed by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which studies to standardize how we think about the changes that could take place based on emissions.

Using those numbers, Petri calculated the number of heating degree days (HDD, or the number of days per year you use your heater to keep your home at 65 degrees) and the number of cooling degree days (CDD, or the number of days you need the a/c to keep the temperature at 65) in regions across the US in the future. She found that across the board, there will be less heating and more cooling. “[H]eating demand will decline and cooling demand will grow in every region of the US,” she writes.

Drill down, and the geo-specific details of the analysis become very interesting — since they give us a comparative glimpse at what specific US cities will be like by the end of the century.

For example, Los Angeles will get more like Jacksonville, Florida when it comes to cooling — which will increase by twofold, says Petri. Meanwhile, when it comes to heating it will look more like Miami, with far fewer days where the heat is on:

How about NYC? Petri’s analysis predicts that by the turn of 2100, New Yorkers will be using their air conditioners more like the residents of El Paso, Texas, do today — and they will need to heat way less, more akin to Raleigh, North Carolina. When you add those two numbers together for New York, you get a climate that’s akin to Oklahoma City.

The comparisons continue: Seattle will feel more like San Jose; Portland will be more like Sacramento. San Francisco, meet Los Angeles. Will anywhere stay the same? “There will be a line, stretching from California to Maryland, across the contiguous US, where the decrease in HDD will approximately equal the increase in CDD, resulting in zero change in the degree-day sum, HDD + CDD,” Petri writes in the study.

Keep in mind, these comparisons are based on the sum of the numbers of days where heating is needed and the number of days cooling is needed — Petri isn’t claiming that the climates will match perfectly, as some studies have tried to do. Rather, she’s saying that the amount of money residents spent on keeping their homes comfy in 2100 will look like these secondary, present-day cities.

As she notes, this kind of data could be helpful if you’re looking to settle down somewhere for the long haul, even if you don’t make it to 2100. “Our results could be potentially useful for assisting residents with the selection of housing locations in the present and future.” In short, choose your next move wisely.

[Scientific Reports]

Picture: S.Borisov