Out of the frying pan, into the fire

Maximum monthly temperature hazard in 2023, ranging to 119 degrees in the Southwest. From First Street Foundation’s 6th National Risk Assessment: Hazardous Heat

It’s been a helluva week for climate outlook–and it’s not even half over.

Mere days after Las Vegas suffered its second significant monsoon downpour within two weeks–flooding casinos and resulting in two deaths–the New York Times featured a major front-page story headlined, “The Megastorm that Could Inundate California.” Based on research at the University of California and the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, the story detailed the growing likelihood that California will be slammed by a 1,200-mile-long “torpedo of moisture” that will inundate the state with as much as 16 inches of rain–and some areas with much more.

That was on Sunday. Monday, the First Street Foundation released its sixth national risk assessment, this one devoted to hazardous heat. The foundation, which says its mission is to model climate change to benefit property owners, previously analyzed flood and wildfire risks across the country. The freely available heat analysis, however, may be the most troubling. While the 121-page report, which includes two-page summaries for each individual state, is too lengthy to summarize here, suffice to say that the overall findings are visually summarized by the above map: it’s hot. It’s going to get a lot hotter. And the heat is going to last longer.

Bottom line? “Extreme Danger Days,” with temperatures over 125 degrees, will affect approximately 50 counties with 8 million people next year–and 1,023 counties with 107 million residents by 2053. Those extreme temperatures, however, will not be where you might expect: they’ll be concentrated across the middle of the country, in an area stretching from the Louisiana and Texas border north through Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois, affecting such cities as St. Louis, Kansas City, Tulsa, Memphis and Chicago. Meanwhile, the total number of “local hot days,” defined as the lowest temperature of the hottest seven days of this year for any given area, will grow to about 30 days at the same temperature in 2053 for large swaths of the South, with Florida hit hardest.

Such extreme heat has numerous implications, starting with the greater instability it creates in the weather, most notably in Midwest and prairie states already ravaged by tornadoes. Agriculture will take a hit. So will electric utilities, and nowhere more than in Texas, whose power grid is notoriously fragile even as it remains largely isolated from the larger national electric network. And, of course, there’s the whole thing about loss of health and longevity when human bodies are attacked by a brutal environment.

But the kicker is that the states with the highest odds of getting hammered by drought, flood, cataclysmic storms and extreme heat are also the states–other than California–with the highest influx of new residents. Florida, Texas, Arizona, Nevada–all have become magnets for people relocating from other parts of the country, ostensibly in search of lower taxes, more salubrious weather and less pesky government intrusion into their lives. It’s as though none of those tens of thousands of annual arrivals ever read or watched the news, or wondered where they would get their drinking water when the reservoirs are finally dry, or thought about the consequences of underfunded public services and emergency resources.

San Antonio, Phoenix and Fort Worth had the biggest population gains between 2020 and 2021, according to the U.S. Census Dept. Meanwhile, eight of the 15 fastest-growing large cities or towns by percent change were in the West — with five in Arizona — and seven in the South. More lemming-like behavior is hard to imagine.

What all this implies for RVers and campers in the years ahead is not hard to imagine. For all of the increased use of RVs as primary dwellings, most RVers and campers are indulging a discretionary behavior that isn’t essential to their well-being, which is to say, they simply won’t go vacationing in a hellscape. And those who do inadvertently end up in a scene out of Hieronymus Bosch will in most cases simply move on. Campground owners, on the other hand, will have no attractive options at all–something anyone still thinking of buying an RV park should keep very much in mind.

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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