Labor Day 2040: Endless Summer

Who ever would’ve guessed that there would be a Labor Day card for global warming.  But that is what SomeEcards are for:

But “The Onion” of e-card companies makes a serious point:  In the not-too-distant future, people are going to be amazed that anybody ever thought Labor Day signified the unofficial end of summer.  As Climate Progress discussed in “Mother Nature is Just Getting Warmed Up” in June:

Stanford climate scientists forecast permanently hotter summers

The tropics and much of the Northern Hemisphere are likely to experience an irreversible rise in summer temperatures within the next 20 to 60 years if atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to increase, according to a new climate study by Stanford University scientists….

“According to our projections, large areas of the globe are likely to warm up so quickly that, by the middle of this century, even the coolest summers will be hotter than the hottest summers of the past 50 years,” said the study’s lead author, Noah Diffenbaugh.

And this could happen even sooner since, “actual GHG emissions over the early 21st century have exceeded those projected in the SRES scenario used here, suggesting that our results could provide a conservative projection of the timing of permanent emergence of an unprecedented heat regime.”

In a terrific presentation from last year, Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe has a figure of what staying on the business as usual emissions path (A1FI or 1000 ppm) would mean for the end of this century (derived from the NOAA-led report):


Yes, absent a sharp and deep reduction in national and global emissions, by century’s end, Kansas (!) could well be above 100°F for three full months.  Labor Day will mean a return to those pleasant mid-to-upper 90s!

It truly will be an endless summer over much of Texas and Arizona and the Central Valley of California.  Not only will it be hot, but it will be very, very dry very, very soon:

drought map 2 2030-2039

The maps use a common measure, the Palmer Drought Severity Index, which assigns positive numbers when conditions are unusually wet for a particular region, and negative numbers when conditions are unusually dry. A reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought.  More details on this figure are here.

The PDSI in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade (see here).  So the numbers projected by National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are already near catastrophic by the 2030s.  And they are beyond catastrophic by the 2060s (see New study puts the ‘hell’ in Hell and High Water).

The NCAR study warned, “The United States and many other heavily populated countries face a growing threat of severe and prolonged drought in coming decadespossibly reaching a scale in some regions by the end of the century that has rarely, if ever, been observed in modern times.

This drying creates a vicious circle.  The heat dries out the land.  Then Dust-Bowlification exacerbates the warming because when large tracts of land are dry, the warming doesn’t go into evaporating moisture from the soil, but into heating up land.  It bakes.  That’s why, for instance, the U.S. set so many temperature records in the 1930s Dust Bowl.  And it’s why in July 2011, drought-stricken Oklahoma saw the highest average temperature of any state in the continental United States for any month since statewide average temperature records began in 1895.

It’ll be a hellish summer for much of the West by mid-century — see Climate change expected to sharply increase Western wildfire burn area — as much as 175% by the 2050.

Here’s the grim wildfire projection from a presentation made by the President’s science adviser Dr. John Holdren in Oslo last year:

If you’re wondering what the worst-case might look like, then the UK Met Office has what you are looking for: Catastrophic climate change, 13-18°F over most of U.S. and 27°F in the Arctic, could happen in 50 years, but “we do have time to stop it if we cut greenhouse gas emissions soon.”

This is the “plausible worst case scenario” for around 2060 from the Met Office that occurs in 10% of model runs of high emissions with the carbon cycle feedbacks [temperature in degrees Celsius, multiple by 1.8 for Fahrenheit]:

Now that is an endless global summer.

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40 Responses to Labor Day 2040: Endless Summer

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Interesting map. It’s telling us that much of Arizona and the California Mojave will be uninhabitable before long. 22 weeks over 100 degrees also means temps in the mid 120’s in that part of the country. Auto and home air conditioning equipment will fail, along with items such as machinery gaskets and window sealants.

    More importantly, people will fail. If you’ve ever been in 120 degree weather, you remember it for a long time. 125 degree weather is just not worth fighting, even for limited periods. Depending on the humidity levels, people will die, and not just the elderly. That means abandonment- bye bye, Phoenix, Palm Desert, and maybe some other places like El Paso that were not exactly garden spots in the first place.

    Costs of internal migration and wealth destruction are difficult to calculate, but on top of everything else it will be a catastrophe all its own. India and China have much bigger problems, not to mention Botswana and El Salvador.

    We could stop it if we wanted. Unfortunately, “we” don’t count. The wealthy in this country need that fossil fuel income, so that their art collections and French villas can keep up with the neighbors.

  2. Leif says:

    What is it that President Obama does not understand about this? If he knows something that we do not, perhaps he could share.

  3. catman306 says:

    People at the local paper comments were hoping the rain from Lee stalls over NE Georgia and replenishes our surface water and wells. I wrote:

    “The rain doesn’t seem to fall where people need it or when they need it. Welcome to the new world. Weather as if people didn’t matter.”

    Climate change means weather as if people didn’t matter.

  4. catman306 says:

    Not to be a contrarian, Joe, but here in NE Georgia, Autumn has already begun, it’s seems to be the longest season of the year. It began about two weeks ago when leaves started turning yellow, then brown and then fell off the trees and vines. It’s early autumn here, and the temperature has been in the 90s for weeks. Marking the end of Autumn in the SE has always been difficult. But winter is usually two or three months with daytime temps between 20 and 50F. Spring has always been the shortest season here sometimes lasting only two weeks.

    It’s Autumn with Summertime temperatures. This seems to require a new name.

  5. Peter Mizla says:

    The Stanford study may be conservative

    the warming, like the melt of arctic ice is happening far more quicker then expected.

    Climate sensitivity to C02 is coming back to haunt us far quicker then climate models ever expected.

  6. Interesting Times says:

    …because our political and business elite conduct themselves as if people didn’t matter.

  7. Peter Mizla says:


    the lower great plains, (OK Northern TX) the western corn belt (Indiana, Illinois, Iowa) , – the wheat plains of Kansas-

    climate models for 2020 and after point to a very bleak future

    As for AZ- well live in a self contained community- water stored under your home, ‘Domed’ to reflect sun & heat.

    All of this- and Americans still remain incredibly blind. I give up.

  8. Leif says:

    Peter says: …” far quicker then climate models ever expected.” Is that a surprise? I understand that climate models only try to model ONE climate forcing at a time because minor error bars errors tend to multiply not add. Nature responds to forcing in total.

  9. Oscar says:

    Joe – I read your blog often, and considering that I’m a physicist I’m right there with you.

    I recommend that you explain to people what the map of the Palmer Index really means. I think the average reader will look at that map and ask: “Ok, does that map represent the probability of dry or wet periods? Or does it show the new average condition from our present time? Does it mean that most of the US will be in extreme drought continuously, or is that only during the summer when it is hottest?” etc, etc

    People who read your blog no doubt post to facebook, where their friends can read it. But if your maps and data (which are the most important parts – pictures worth 1000 words) are not properly explained people will likely dismiss them.

  10. Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Leif, You’re a nice guy but you don’t know beans about climate models.

  11. Joe Romm says:

    Fair enough. But the figure means what it says. The soil dries out. People who want more are always encouraged to click on links.

  12. Tom Gray says:

    So? Enlighten us.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Message to Joe, Bill McKibben, the Washington Folks, Greenpeace and Etc. About San Francisco and Concrete Stuff

    Hey, I just noticed two dates coming up as well as a third date that occurs in the same period. And these dates raise a question.

    As it turns out, President Obama will be in the San Francisco Bay Area on September 25, according to a recent article about the President’s upcoming schedule. It seems to me that it might be very helpful, and demonstrate solidarity and continuity, to do a “No To Keystone XL!” demonstration here, during his visit. I would think there are hundreds of folks here — and quite possibly thousands — who want to make their feelings about Keystone XL known to the President but who didn’t make it to Washington. I’m one of them.

    And get this: September 24 is “Moving Planet”. These two dates are on the same weekend: Saturday the 24th, and Sunday the 25th. Thus, many of the folks who are “in gear” and in the mood for Moving Planet could demonstrate about Keystone XL during the President’s visit the very next day. Make it a big and active and activating weekend. Take advantage of the momentum, and build some.

    The third date — occurring before the other two — is this: Bill McKibben will be speaking in Walnut Creek (in the San Francisco Bay Area) on Saturday September 10. Perhaps Bill’s visit to the Bay Area would be a good time to talk about possibilities for the 25th?

    When I consider all these dates, they make me think that we ought to consider doing something — something hopefully big — to demonstrate against Keystone XL when the President is here on the 25th. Do, Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and etc. know about the Pres’s visit here on the 25th? Is anyone planning anything yet? Should something be planned? I think so!

    Time is running out, and whether or not it seems likely that the Pres will approve of Keystone XL, we need to let him know that he shouldn’t and that we don’t want him to. I missed the activities in Washington, but I want to make my feelings known.

    Any thoughts?


  14. Colorado Bob says:

    The August record event report for Philadelphia :
    338 PM EDT THU SEP 1 2011







  15. Interesting Times says:

    I think it would help to include a link to this: Explanation of the US Drought Monitor

    Here’s what -5.0 or less on the Palmer Drought Index means in real terms:

    Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies

    Once you put it like that, laypeople might just start to get the picture of what -20(!) would mean.

  16. Colorado Bob says:

    Colorado: Hottest August on record for Denver
    ” an average temperature of 77 degrees for the month. ……. The previous record, 76.8 degrees, was set in the Dust Bowl era, back in 1937. Through Aug. 31, Denver recorded 71 consecutive days with temperatures climbing above 80 degrees. The previous record streak for 80-degree-plus days was 59 days, set during the epic 2002 drought year.

  17. Colorado Bob says:

    Flooded fields in ND lead to higher pasta prices

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates North Dakota farmers planted only 800,000 acres of durum this spring, down from 1.85 million acres last year and the least since 1958.

  18. Edith Wiethorn says:

    Thank you! I believe it is a useful premise to act “as if” everyone is interested in life-long learning – even if their working expertise is in other fields of endeavor.

  19. Joan Savage says:

    Labor Day in upstate New York has traditionally been the last time to go to the lake beaches before it gets too chilly for water sports. People have big gatherings and then put everyone to work bringing in the docks. School year schedules are built around that date too, so there are big implications. Most of our school buildings were never air-conditioned, a cost savings when Sept 6 to June 20 is an adequate school year, without heat waves.

    Having to air-condition schools and/or squeeze the school year into a tighter bloc of months with less vacations are climate change thresholds of a sort.

  20. Joan Savage says:

    The over 100F figure – is that the average daily temp calculated over 24 hr, or is it the daily high? Or worse, the daily minimum?

    It’s important as corn, soy and cotton stop growing at temps in the 80s. Photosynthesis is only during daylight, so the crops would have to be able to do all their growing in windows of opportunity, such in the relative cool of early in the morning.

    [JR: The daily high.]

  21. Joan Savage says:

    Crops continue to grow at night, drawing up water and nutrients, expanding cells, etc. but you get the picture.

  22. Leif says:

    I was thinking about ignoring the effects of things like methane hydrate, perma-frost melt agricultural dry off, things like that. Do you think that Methane Hydrate will just sit there like a dead thing and all of a sudden materialize, or will it come in on cats feet? I do agree that it was poor phrasing.

  23. Peter Mizla says:

    The Map shows if anything a future USA that becomes ‘fractured’ not only on ‘social issues’ but according to climate.

    Interesting that most of the states seeing the most heat and drought in the future are ‘Red States’.

    Will the upper Northeast, coastal California and the Pacific Northwest be the points of migration in the 21st century out of the sunbelt and inland USA?

  24. sarah says:

    Climate models most definitely include multiple forcers.

    A good overview is posted here:

  25. John Cooper says:

    Autumn with summer temperatures is not autumn, its still summer. The leaves are falling from the trees because of drought and heat stress – here in central Texas, the only green trees are the live oaks and mountain juniper, and they’re even starting to look stressed. We have leaves in our front and back yards covering our dead grass. I’m thinking cactus is on its was to dominating our landscape.

  26. Speaking of Labor Day, I just came from a Labor Day event (in Iowa) where I was lobbied very hard by the organized labor people to support the tar sands pipeline. Labor wants it for the jobs, and they were telling me that they are lobbying Obama to allow it, even hinting that it may be something of a “make or break” deal for them. Now get ready for this next comment (head vise and all). They said that everyone was for it except for some “tree huggers”. At that point, I spoke up and objected. I doubt if you will like their arguments, but it might be useful to hear them. They insisted that they were in favor of doing something about global warming, but we need the pipeline for the jobs. Basically, jobs trump everything. To the suggestion that there are jobs in wind, solar, etc they said, fine lets have those too provided they are high paying jobs, but we also need the pipeline jobs. To the information that tar sands oil is dirtier than other oil, the answer was, “you may be right but we need jobs anyway.” To the suggestion that we need to get into carbon-free energy, the answer was, “Well OK, we agree, but face it, we will always need oil. Besides, we can’t change unless we can talk the rest of the world into going along.”

    The idea that China is already getting ahead in this area seems to be something they had not considered and didn’t quite seem to believe. The subject of imports from China is one that gets their attention, and so I said, “Look, I don’t like those imports either. But if China turns out to be the place where they are selling carbon-free stuff, then we are just going to have to import it.” It seemed that they hadn’t quite thought of China that way, but it didn’t change their minds on the pipeline. Like I said, jobs seem to trump everything. I mention all this just to point out that it isn’t only business interests that are hindering climate action. Labor is an important ally for Obama, beyond its actual numbers, due to money and volunteers, and he is going to have to consider it regardless of demonstrations at the White House. Labor people have some inkling of the climate problem, but they don’t really understand it. They are not hard-core deniers though, and there is going to have to be some engagement with them.

  27. GeorgeA says:

    I tried putting the 2030 PDSI map into perspective by looking to see where on the scale Texas has been this summer.

    “Wow” doesn’t come close.

  28. So let’s just play a conjecture game:
    At this time next year, what will things look like? (Ummm, that would be just 2 months from the election.)

    Figure the Texas drought will have continued (already predicted), and like every Labor Day, figure a higher risk of wildfires. Quite a horrific mess before the elections.

    In April of next year, we will see another set of tornadoes. Hurricanes in the fall – one or two will likely strike before the election. After hot weather there may be some significant crop losses. November of next year – should be a bit cooler than summer. But will voters forget?

    Now I cannot predict these things will happen, but I can easily say they will probably not be much better.

    Interesting times ahead

  29. Greg says:

    Nitpick: It’s A1FI (A1-Fossil Intensive), not A1F1. Otherwise, great post!

    Are you planning to do a post on the new set of “representative concentration pathways”, Joe? In some ways, they seem a step backwards. Only RCP 4.5 and RCP 6.0 seem reasonably realistic — according to the current state of knowledge, government skill and international cooperation, of course.

  30. Forest says:

    Tar sands oil sent down a Keystone pipeline requires the equivalent energy from natural gas to process it. That gas is being fracted in northern British Columbia (BC) in the Horne River basin. Electricity to extract,process and transport the gas to the tar sands is to come from a proposed Site C dam on BC’s northern Peace River. The dam reservoir is 100 km long; it will flood close to 20% of BC’s class one and two potential market garden class one and two land. the dam will last 70 years. BC imports 53% of its food from the USA. A small group of about 40 people are trying to stop development of the dam; we are fighting government, big oil and big Hydro. Hydro alone has $40 million for PR and consultation. A second pipeline (Enbridge Gateway) is under a Canadian environmental review. If approved, it will deliver oil 1700 km to the BC coast and waiting supertankers bound for Asia. All of this is for money (sold as jobs). We need a big name here to help us fight this. Our 139 canoes paddling as a protest do not work.

  31. Peter Mizla says:

    Yes, it is going to become more ‘interesting’ with climate offerings as the decade proceeds.

    The big question is at what point does the public begin to act collectivity and start asking their elected officials questions.

    Also, when does the media decide to report climate/weather disasters with objectivity?

    Will the Media begin to report the connection of climate change to the increasing number and violent nature of storms, floods, fires, droughts……

    2012 could be a a very warm year- what would the continuation of the drought in the lower Great Plains mean for food prices?

    It is just a matter of time before we have another destructive event with loos of life and property.

  32. Joan Savage says:

    Thanks for your description of Labor Day in Iowa; something about what you observed intrigued me. The unionists you encountered didn’t seem to know that green jobs pay well. How much of that ignorance is due to counter propaganda from their employers? Or not being located near clean energy enterprises?
    What would it take for the union members to get the message that green jobs pay well, along with the re-training to do it? I don’t expect you to answer individually, unless you want to.

  33. Lollipop says:

    Look, I ca’t make any promises, but I can tell you that I spent this weekend with serious committed activists, young and old, who aren’t going to let this go down without a serious fight. Please don’t give up. Please please fight the despair and the cynicism and join us in what is going to be, what must be, the biggest and most powerful social movement in history. We need you.

  34. Robert In New Orleans says:

    I do believe that Obama knows the truth about climate change and also knows that most Americans are in deep denial about it, so why rock the boat? In order to deal with this issue, the level of CHANGE required is just beyond our capacity to do so.

    The patient is terminal, just give him some pain medication.

  35. We won’t give up. Sometimes we need to vent. You be careful out there, and keep it within the law.

  36. We had summer weather into the high 80s through to mid October last year in southern Illinois. The trees suffered a lot.

  37. There is plenty of counter propaganda out there. That’s all most people hear, in fact.

  38. JasonsRobot says:

    I hate Al Gore -therefore- Pollution is harmless


  39. TheFatherofLies says:

    Given the cloudy, breezy weather yesterday(Cinci, OH) and this morning’s frigid rainfall (Louisville, KY) I’d venture to say “unofficial fall” is right on time… This year. Having seen that incredible glacial melt last week, I’d also say we’re right on track for a species-wide culling in the decades to come. The coast will create new beachfronts and we’ll have a dustbowl the that will make the Depression-equivalent seem quaint. Buckle up humanity, it’ll take decades for yesteryear’s output to even register.