Researchers at Stanford University predict that by 2039 an intense heat wave equal to the longest on record -- from 1951 to 1999 -- is likely to occur as many as five times between 2020 and 2029 over areas of the western and central United States. The 2030s are projected to be even hotter.
The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, concludes hot temperature extremes could pose serious risks to agriculture and human health.
"In the next 30 years, we could see an increase in heat waves like the one now occurring in the eastern United States or the kind that swept across Europe in 2003 that caused tens of thousands of fatalities," lead author Noah Diffenbaugh says in a statement. "Those kinds of severe heat events also put enormous stress on major crops like corn, soybean, cotton and wine grapes, causing a significant reduction in yields."
Diffenbaugh and colleagues analyzed temperature data for the continental United States from 1951 to 1999 and used a large suite of climate model experiments to predict future temperature treads.
The mean global temperature in 30 years would be about 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) hotter than in the pre-industrial era of the 1850s.
Many climate scientists and policymakers have targeted a 2-degree C temperature increase as the maximum threshold beyond which the planet is likely to experience serious environmental damage, the study says.