A recent study finds a quarter of land in the U.S. is at risk of the most extreme levels of heat exposure — that’s temperatures exceeding a 125°F heat index.
Hazardous Heat, a study from the First Street Foundation, examines the impact of extreme temperatures from climate change that will affect the country over the next 30 years.
The study found that 8.1 million residents are expected to experience temperatures above 125°F in 2023. By 2053, the study estimates that 107.6 million residents will face excessive temperatures, in what the study calls the “extreme heat belt.”
“What we’re forecasting with emissions and the change from climate overall is that the extreme heat belt actually then grows and encompasses areas all the way from the top of Texas and Louisiana through and up to Chicago,” said Matthew Eby, the CEO of the First Street Foundation; the non-profit measures climate-related risks
These temperatures can affect everything from public health to infrastructure, said Eby. As temperatures get to extreme heats, it can get so hot that heat strokes become more likely, and the body can lose its ability to regulate its temperature and cool down through sweating. And with infrastructure like railroads, the tracks can get so hot that when a train rides on the tracks it can buckle and derail, he added.
The “extreme heat belt” goes so far north because they don’t have access to the cooling effects of water like coastal cities do, Eby said. In an area with a close proximity to water, wind will bring a cooling temperature from the water to the land. That, mixed with impervious surfaces like steel or concrete that absorb heat can also contribute to swathes of extreme temperatures.