A new interactive map lets you peer 60 years into the future of cities in North America — and no matter where you look, the outlook is worrying. Temperatures climb, precipitation shifts, and the Charlotte, North Carolina of the future winds up feeling more like the Tallahassee, Florida of today.
The map, released today along with a study in the journal Nature Communications, forecasts the future climates for 540 cities in North America — connecting them to climates that we know now. So instead of just saying that San Francisco, for example, will be 6.9℉ warmer and 40 percent drier than it is today, the map draws a line to the closest climate analogy, which, in this case, is a city in LA County.
The point was to apply the facts of climate change to people’s everyday lives, says Matthew Fitzpatrick, an ecologist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and one of the two authors on the study. Numbers on their own can be hard to grasp. “The goal was to try and translate these abstract, descriptive future projections into something that’s more local and more related to personal experience,” Fitzpatrick told The Verge.
So Fitzpatrick and his co-author Robert Dunn investigated how local climates could shift if fossil fuel emissions continue unchecked, or if we manage to cut back on our carbon emissions. Then they used statistics to find the closest locations with current climates that matched those future projections. On the map you can either see the average of the 27 different forecast scenarios the authors used, or look at the 27 individual lines. Interestingly, the forecasts don’t always agree.
That means that for some places, the temperature and precipitation could change in ways we haven’t seen in North America. “It really underscores this dramatic transformation of climate that could occur over the next 60 years, in the lifetime of children alive today,” Fitzpatrick says.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen maps of changing climates, as other places, including Earther, have noted. Climate Central, for example, has been charting the changes in future summers around the country for awhile. What is new is the slick new website, says Andrew Dessler, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University. “It’s really a good idea — good visuals help make the case and help really make it clear to people what’s happening.”
Still, Dessler’s not optimistic that it will spur climate action. Even if people recognize the facts of climate change, it can be hard for people to think about solutions when they’re worrying about their kids or paying the rent, he says. “Along with insect apocalypse and nuclear war, it just doesn’t rise to the level of these other things,” Dessler says. “People can’t imagine how bad it’s going to get.”
But Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist and climate communicator who also wasn’t involved in the study, thinks this is another tool that can help people imagine that future. “Understanding that the climate is changing doesn’t really get to the bottom of what that really means to people and their lives going forward,” he says. “Everybody probably has a unique way in which they can be reached through climate change communication, and this is another tool in our box.”