When it comes to climate change, scientific models suggest that the Pacific Northwest will get off relatively easy. Some have even suggested that the region will see a population boom, as “climate refugees” make their way to region to escape droughts, unbearable heat, flooding and other conditions.
But while climate change's impacts aren't predicted to be extreme west of the Cascade Mountains – especially relative to parts of Eastern Washington, California and the Midwest – the area won’t be unscathed, according to a new report from the University of Washington.
The study, produced by UW’s Climate Impacts Group, aims to provide the most comprehensive look to date at the impacts of warming weather on the region stretching from Olympia to Canada, compiling research papers, agency reports, and many other relevant data.
“It’s a synthesis of science,” says lead author and research scientist Guillaume Mauger. He says the report provides “a single resource for people to look at what’s coming and think about how to adapt.”
The scope of the study is enormous, ranging from predicted changes to water quality, to landslide frequency, to agricultural output. Mauger claims a study of its depth never would've been possible a decade ago, the last time UW attempted such a compilation.
Among its projections, the report presents an overview of climate change’s deleterious effects on human health. Here are five of the report’s key findings on the subject:
1) Puget Sound may need to rethink its aversion to air conditioning
Unlike the frequently parched citizens of Eastern Washington, Puget Sound residents are not accustomed to serious heat, Mauger says. That’s a problem, as the average temperature in the region is expected to rise by 2.9 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2050s.
That may not seem like much, but emergency medical calls in King County increase by 16 percent on extreme hot days, according to the study. The death rate increases by 6 percent for those over 65, and by an alarming 18 percent for those over 85. As the temperature creeps up further, those numbers may rise as well.
Mauger says Puget Sound citizens may be more susceptible to health problems on these days than their counterparts in Eastern Washington. While hesitant to speculate exactly why that is, he says two theories seem plausible: One is that people in the area don’t have the proper “habits that go along with how you live on really hot days."
The other, as Crosscut’s Ben Anderstone has noted, is that Seattle has the least amount of air conditioning of any major city other than San Francisco. And that city has average summer temperatures significantly lower than Seattle.
2) The region may start earning its reputation for rain
As any longtime resident will tell you, the rumors of constant rainfall in the Puget Sound have been greatly exaggerated. The area enjoys a constant state of grey overcast gloom during certain seasons instead, with less overall precipitation than cities like Houston.