5 years ago

Heat in the southeastern United States: Characteristics, trends, and potential health impact

Christine E. Stauber, Jeremy E. Diem, Richard Rothenberg

by Jeremy E. Diem, Christine E. Stauber, Richard Rothenberg

High summer temperatures in extratropical areas have an impact on the public’s health, mainly through heat stress, high air pollution concentrations, and the transmission of tropical diseases. The purpose of this study is to examine the current characteristics of heat events and future projections of summer apparent temperature (AT)–and associated health concerns–throughout the southeastern United States. Synoptic climatology was used to assess the atmospheric characteristics of extreme heat days (EHDs) from 1979–2015. Ozone concentrations also were examined during EHDs. Trends in summer-season AT over the 37-year period and correlations between AT and atmospheric circulation were determined. Mid-century estimates of summer AT were calculated using downscaled data from an ensemble of global climate models. EHDs throughout the Southeast were characterized by ridging and anticyclones over the Southeast and the presence of moist tropical air masses. Exceedingly high ozone concentrations occurred on EHDs in the Atlanta area and throughout central North Carolina. While summer ATs did not increase significantly from 1979–2015, summer ATs are projected to increase substantially by mid-century, with most the Southeast having ATs similar to that of present-day southern Florida (i.e., a tropical climate). High ozone concentrations should continue to occur during future heat events. Large urban areas are expected to be the most affected by the future warming, resulting from intensifying and expanding urban heat islands, a large increase in heat-vulnerable populations, and climate conditions that will be highly suitable for tropical-disease transmission by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. This nexus of vulnerability creates the potential for heat-related morbidity and mortality, as well as the appearance of disease not previously seen in the region. These effects can be attenuated by policies that reduce urban heat (e.g., cool roofs and green roofs) and that improve infrastructure (e.g. emergency services, conditioned space).

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177937

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