Will Global Warming Ruin Football in the South?

Football’s heartland will become dangerously hot

Back in November, GE’s TXCHNOLOGIST blog pointed out that climate change “could ruin Texas football,” indeed all southern U.S. football:

The effects of climate change, so far, have been most noticeable in Texas, where a terrible drought has dried up football fields in small towns that used to look forward to Friday nights above all. But climate change will have a terrible effect on communities throughout the cradle of football in the Southern and plains states.

Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas. The home states of the last five college football champions? Yes. But these are also states that are projected to experience 150-180 days a year with peak temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit by the final decades of the 21st Century. That’s almost six months of the year. In parts of Florida and Texas the number is likely to exceed 180 days a year. Not only will the high temperatures be hotter, the lows will also be higher, so there will be less relief from the sultry conditions. This warming effect will have devastating effects on the ecology and economies of these area and make watching and playing football outdoors almost unbearable.

This isn’t news to Climate Progress readers (see NASA’s Hansen: “If We Stay on With Business as Usual, the Southern U.S. Will Become Almost Uninhabitable.”  But it is going to come as a big shock to the football fans throughout the region, many of whom have been heavily disinformed by their politicians and favorite media outlets.

Indeed, it is the conservative southern U.S., especially the South central and South east, who have led the way in blocking serious climate action, as it were, making yesterday’s worst-case scenario into today’s likely outcome (see “Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 — and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual! — the source of the figure above).

I’m a football fan, born and raised in New York State, and I will be rooting today for Manning to beat Brady — once again.  Ironically, it looks like warming is going to make football more of a northern U.S. game — though that will be among the least consequential of the myriad impacts our greed and myopia is thrusting on our children and grandchildren and billions around the world

GE’s blog points out a key danger of the ever-worsening heat and heat waves:  “Players will run increasing risk of hyperthermia.”  Andrew Grundstein, of the Climatology Research Laboratory at the University of Georgia, has analyzed heat-related deaths of football players since 1980.  In August, he explained his findings in a UCS press call and pointed out some of his remarkable findings, including the fact that “the conventional wisdom that coaches can reduce the risk by practicing in the morning is inaccurate“:

  • The death rate has increased since the mid-1990s
  • Most of the deaths occurred early in the August practice period, with nearly 25 percent happening during the first three days of practice
  • The overwhelming majority—86 percent—of those who died were linemen
  • Most of the deaths occurred in the eastern half of the United States

“Many coaches assume that morning practices are safer because they are cooler,” [said Grundstein]. “But almost 60 percent of the deaths came after exposure during morning practices. The mornings may be cooler, but they also may be more humid which can increase the heat stress.”

Deke Arndt, chief of the Climate Monitoring Branch of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, said that based on climate change projections, record temperatures and intense heat waves are likely to occur more frequently in the future. He also pointed out that many U.S. cities have set records for overnight temperatures this summer, which often is associated with higher humidity.

“Overnight temperatures don’t get as much attention as record highs,” Arndt said, “but in recent summers, we’ve been seeing that extremes in warmer low temperatures have been outpacing those for afternoon temperatures in terms of setting records.”

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control reported that an average of 6,000 people go to emergency rooms every year for heat-related illnesses during sports or recreational activities. The highest percentage of them are males between the ages of 15 and 19.

The good news is many of the deaths are preventable:

“This is not just about making sure players drink a lot of liquids,” said Michael Bergeron, director of the National Institute for Athletic Health and Performance at Sanford Health, and one of the country’s leading authorities on how young athletes are affected by exercising in hot weather. “It’s also about making sure they have the time to get acclimated to practicing under these conditions and adjusting the work-to-rest ratio appropriately.

“Even when athletes are well-hydrated, if it’s hot enough and you go hard enough, people can die,” added Bergeron, who has written guidelines for what coaches can do to reduce the risks to their players. “The bottom line is, heat-related deaths on the athletic field are preventable “

The bad news is, the climate is just going to get much, much worse if we keep listening to the disinformers.  Indeed, the GE blog points out:

Grass fields will turn to dust, synthetic fields will be too hot to touch

The near-Biblical drought that has gripped Texas in recent years has parched dozens, maybe even hundreds, of grass football fields. This is a preview of things to come. Drought and water scarcity will likely become more commonplace throughout football’s heartland, meaning more natural turf fields will turn to dust. And while artificial turf presents a plausible alternative to natural turf, synthetic fields are expensive and can cook to 50-100 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the air temperature on hot days (natural turf fields rarely exceed 100 degrees). Artificial turf can be irrigated to bring temperatures down but surface temperatures rebound quickly, according to studies. And irrigating does not address water scarcity problems.

Ouch, literally.

The link goes to a June 2011 in SportsTurfOnline (!), “Is there any way to cool synthetic turf?” which concludes:

What do these results tell us? As of right now, it is obvious that there is no “magic bullet” available to dramatically lower the surface temperature of synthetic turf.  Reductions of five or even ten degrees offer little comfort when temperatures can still exceed 150° F. Until temperatures can be reduced by at least 20-30 degrees for an extended period of time, surface temperature will remain a major issue on synthetic turf fields.

It’s worth noting that the chart at the top of days per year above 90F is the A2 scenario (about 850 ppm atmospheric concentrations of CO2 in 2100).  On our current emissions path, we are headed toward  A1FI, 1000 ppm (see here).  In a March 2010 presentation, Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe has a figure of what the A1FI would mean:

Are you ready for some 100F football, southern states?

It is, of course, unclear whether people will still want to play football when the land has turned to dust (see “USGS on Dust-Bowlification and “Nature Publishes My Piece on Dust-Bowlification“) and the nation and the world are suffering through multiple horrific impacts.

Bread and circuses” — panem et circenses — goes the old saying.  Hmm.  Maybe the future of sports is The Hunger Games.

15 Responses to Will Global Warming Ruin Football in the South?

  1. Peter SM says:

    I do not think a majority of the those living in the south realize what they are facing. It makes their doom all the more likely.

    Do they deserve any empathy?

  2. Tim says:

    OMG! This is serious!

  3. Joan Savage says:

    Linebackers and astroturf are tips of a heat-berg, or drought-berg.

  4. Jay Dee Are says:

    Whatever it takes to make the likes of Rick Perry recognize what they are up against.

  5. Gail Zawacki says:

    Well, being an (the only?) Ozonista, I feel compelled to point out that air pollution, which increases as the temperature rises, is a primary risk factor for the elderly, the young, and those who exercise and breathe more deeply. This is why London is scrambling to do something about the Olympics.

    just one random link – they are endless:

    The Air Quality Index was expected to reach 106 on the 20th, the day the Athlete collapsed. The detrimental pollutant was increased ground level Ozone. Sensitive Groups can make their first appearance fatally.

    That day there was an epidemic of Breathing difficulties at football practice. Several Athletes became nauseated, the first sign, and could not breathe. A second Athlete was transported in the same ambulance as the deceased and was hospitalized for 3 days with sever Asthma. He survived.

    “The health implications of Global Warming are the deadly effects a heat wave combined with Ozone have on Athletes practicing or playing outside.” Increasing evidence suggests the Ozone and Heat Index affect each other synergistically. This is Key. In other words, the presence of increased ground level Ozone increases the absolute number or the Heat Index and the presence of high Heat Index increases the absolute number of ground level Ozone. Therefore the Heat index on the 20th was higher than 94 and the AQI was higher than 106. There appears to be a linear relationship between the AQI and the Heat Index.

    It appears the Football Athlete’s final clinical cause of death was Ozone Intoxication in addition to Exertional Heat Stroke. Dehydration was not proven as a cause of death. Complete autopsy was not concluded with an internal body post mortem examination.

    Global Warming, heat waves, Air Alerts and Ozone are more common now, particularly in urban areas. Many Athlete Sudden Deaths occur in urban areas during heat waves when dangerous Air Alerts have been overlooked or ignored. Coaches must be aware of dangers and be vigilant concerning the athletic environment.

  6. Lara Jorgensen says:

    Heads up to Joe Romm, they’re attacking you over at WUWT for your LA Times article and for ignoring the extreme cold in Europe this winter.

  7. Joe Romm says:

    Who reads the disinformer, hate-speech promoting, scientist smearing blogs anymore? Seriously.
    The Muller affair exposed WUWT as pure non-science or is that pure nonsense.
    They attack top climate scientists for explaining science,
    They attack Koch-funded scientists for explaining science.
    And I’m shocked to hear they attack Meehl and anyone in the media who gets the story right.

  8. Mike Roddy says:

    Don’t worry about Southern footbawl. They’ll excavate a whole stadium underground if they have to. The coach will still get the highest salary in town. He’ll need it, for all of the air conditioning he and his family will need.

    It could get strange, though. Everybody is going to need showers in the middle of a game, and people in the stands will be eating corn dogs and donuts. Hot dogs will be too expensive by then.

  9. Paul Revere says:

    You could always run the football season in the winter and have basketball go in the fall, since basketball is played indoors in air-conditioned gyms. That way instead of playoff games in football being played in fifteen below zero at Lambeau Field in Green Bay they will be played in March or April.

  10. jyyh says:

    Soccer can be played on sand too. But the temperatures projected would indicate also it would be best to play right before sunrise.

  11. Will Fox says:

    There’s a slight error in the text. The link to Hansen: “If We Stay on With Business as Usual, the Southern U.S. Will Become Almost Uninhabitable” doesn’t seem to work.

    It needs linking to here instead –

  12. Nigel St. Hubbins says:

    While limiting football would certainly be hitting Texans “where it hurts,” I’m afraid that the 2080 time-frame makes the issue of roughly the same urgency to them and my 10 year old dog. I’m just saying I’m not sure these are America’s most forward thinking people — if their politicians are any barometer. And if progressives are still pressing for climate action in 2080 — even though the temperature may very well be 10 degrees warmer than today — to the extent there are surviving Texans, I would expect a high percentage to still be unwilling to accept AGW.

  13. Joe Romm says:

    oh, football will suffer long, long before 2080.

  14. Joe Romm says:


  15. squidboy6 says:

    it won’t because Southerners will simply build air-conditioned football arenas. You underestimate Southerner’s desire to resist change, it something all segments of society here (New Orleans) will attempt and in places like Memphis they will actively turn back the clock and allow regressive policies to come back in order to prevent change.