John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A vast tract of land from New York to L.A. has summertime conditions ideal for virus-carrying mosquitoes.
The grim answer is that during summers, the mosquito that transmits the virus—Aedes aegypti—could buzz in a vast tract of land from New York to Miami to L.A., according to a new study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, NASA, and others. Even during winter, it will be able to tolerate the weather in southern cities like Tampa, Miami, Orlando, and Brownsville, Texas.
The dreaded insect will “likely become increasingly abundant across much of the southern and eastern United States as the weather warms,” the researchers say in a press release. Here’s more:
By analyzing travel patterns from countries and territories with Zika outbreaks, the research team further concluded that cities in southern Florida and impoverished areas in southern Texas may be particularly vulnerable to local virus transmission....
Although the study does not include a specific prediction for this year, the authors note that long-range forecasts for this summer point to a 40-45 percent chance of warmer-than-average temperatures over most of the continental United States.
[NCAR’s Andrew] Monaghan said this could lead to increased suitability for Aedes aegypti in much of the South and East, although above-normal temperatures would be less favorable for the species in the hottest regions of Texas, Arizona and California.
Using computer simulations, the researchers mapped 50 cities that could become breeding grounds for Aedes aegypti. There’s a bit to take in here, so here’s a quick guide: Orange and red hues indicate “moderate” and “high” possible abundances of mosquitoes, with the top half of each circle meaning during the winter and the bottom summer. The gray-shaded area is the estimated known range of Aedes aegypti, while the dotted line is the approximate range of Aedes albopictus, a different mosquito that might also start carrying the virus.
And these maps show the possible abundance of Aedes aegypti broken down by month:
Before anyone starts building a 10 Cloverfield Lane-style apocalypse shelter, the researchers qualify that if the virus does gain ground in the U.S., it probably won’t spread at the rate it has in other countries. That’s because many people here live and work in sealed, temperature-controlled buildings, and are less exposed to mosquitoes.