Climate: washington becomes like mississippi

Climatically, U.S. cities could shift as much as 850 kilometers to the south

Washington DC

Washington, the U.S. capital, could experience climates like those in the Deep South in 2080. © Muni Yogeshwaran/ iStock)

Displaced climate: as early as 2080, the climate of many U.S. cities could resemble that of regions now 850 kilometers to the south, a study reveals. New York and Boston would then have a climate like in the Midwest, Washington DC like in the warm and humid Mississippi. Many of today’s southern cities may even experience conditions never before seen in North America.

Climate change not only affects global mean temperatures, it also gradually shifts Earth’s climate zones. Measurements already show that the Earth’s tropical belt is growing by 0.5 degrees of latitude per decade. And the neighboring climate zones also shift poleward by an average of six kilometers per year. Already many animal and plant species cannot keep up with this development.

Displaced cities

But how will these shifts be concretely experienced by us humans? And how to make what’s happening more vivid? Matthew Fitzpatrick of the University of Maryland and Robert Dunn of the University of North Carolina have taken a very practical approach: For 540 cities and metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada, they projected climate change by 2080 under moderate (RCP 4.5) and unmitigated climate change (RCP 8.5) identified.

Climate shifts for U.S. cities

The trick: instead of stating the results in abstract numbers, they picked out the region where the climate is already the same today as it will be in the future in the city in question. On an interactive map, this allows everyone to see for themselves what virtual shift their hometown will experience in terms of climate. "I’m hoping this will create a real ‘aha’ moment," Fitzpatrick says.

850 kilometers further south

The result is drastic: If climate change continues at this rate, most cities in North America will move climatically about 850 kilometers further south. With moderate climate change, it would be a shift of 514 kilometers, as the researchers determined. Washington DC in 2080 could have a climate like Arkansas today; if climate change continues unabated, the climate of the U.S. capital would be equivalent to that in the warm, humid state of Mississippi.

Metropolitan areas in the Northeast, including New York, Boston and Philadelphia are shifting climatically to the south of the Midwest. "In other words, Northeast cities will feel more like the subtropical climate of parts of the Midwest or southeastern United States today," the researchers report. "The climate of cities in the West, on the other hand, will be more like that in the deserts of the Southwest or southern California."

Climate like in Central America

Even more extreme could be a shift in the climate of some cities in the southern United States: "Within the lifetime of today’s children, the climate of many regions will change from the familiar to conditions that no generation has experienced there before," says Fitzpatrick. Many cities could experience climate conditions for which there is no equivalent in North America today. In extreme cases, Florida’s cities will shift climatically to Central America.

Cities and their inhabitants will thus face changes that will require considerable adaptation. "The infrastructure of these urban areas will have to meet the demands of these new climate conditions," researchers say. What’s more, as temperatures rise and precipitation changes, entirely new health risks may also emerge – for example, by spreading disease-carrying mosquito species. (Nature Communications, 2019: doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-08540-3)

If you want to see for yourself where which cities will end up climatically in 2080, you can access an interactive map of the shifts on the Internet.

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