a photo of people sunbathing on a hot summer day in Central Park in New York City
People sunbathe on a hot summer day in Central Park in New York City last July. Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

A new study finds the climate “twin city” for hundreds of places across the United States.

Sixty years from now, climate change could transform the East Coast into the Gulf Coast. It will move Minnesota to Kansas, turn Tulsa into Texas, and hoist Houston into Mexico. Even Oregonians might ooze out of their damp, chilly corner and find themselves carried to the central valley of California.

These changes won’t happen literally, of course—but that doesn’t make them any less real. A new paper tries to find the climate-change twin city for hundreds of places across the United States: the city whose modern-day weather gives the best clue to what conditions will feel like in 2080. It finds that global warming will be like relocating American cities more than 500 miles away from their current location, on average, mostly to the south and toward the country’s interior.

For instance, the Philadelphia of the 2080s will resemble the historical climate of Memphis, Tennessee. By the time that kids today near retirement age, Philadelphia’s average summer will be about 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it is now. Winters in Philly will be nearly 10 degrees more temperate. Memphis’s scorching, sticky weather provides the best guide to how those climatic changes will feel day after day.

Meanwhile, Memphis’s climate will come to resemble that of modern-day College Station, Texas, by 2080.

a screenshot of the environmental tool
A screenshot of the new tool from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. (Fitzpatrick et al / UMCES)

The paper was accompanied by the release of a new tool that lets Americans find their city’s climate-change twin.

“Everything gets warmer,” says Matthew Fitzpatrick, an author of the paper and a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. “I don’t think I’ve seen a place that doesn’t.” In the west and Midwest, cities also tend to get drier as the Great Plains shift east. So Chicago comes to Kansas, Denver drifts to Texas, and San Francisco starts to feel like L.A.

Fitzpatrick cautions that no city will perfectly match its climate twin, especially when it comes to rainfall. Many cities in the South simply do not have a good twin: “The climate of many urban areas could become unlike anything present” in North America, the paper cautions.

In the Northeast, you can envision the future as one big Arkansasification. The paper finds that if the world meets its goals under the Paris Agreement, then Washington, D.C., will enter the 2080s feeling a lot like Paragould, Arkansas. But if the world follows a worst-case scenario, then D.C. will more closely resemble northern Mississippi—and New York City will feel like Jonesboro, Arkansas.

That worries Virginie Rolland, a resident of Jonesboro and a professor of ecology at Arkansas State University. “That’s in line with what I know, that the eastern U.S. will become hotter and wetter, while the [Midwest] will become drier and hotter,” she told me. Her own research focuses on eastern bluebirds, which have historically spent the summer in New York before migrating south for the winter. But “they’ve started staying in New York” for the winter, she said, “so I know it’s getting warmer there.”

She also warned future New Yorkers about what Jonesboro has in store: “Summer-wise, it’s like Florida here. And I cannot imagine New York like Florida ...  it’s hard to think about how humid it will be.”

“I wouldn’t wish the hot and humid summer climate of Arkansas on anyone,” agreed David Stahle, a climate scientist at the University of Arkansas, in an email.

“I was shocked, to be honest,” at how southerly many cities would soon feel, Fitzpatrick told me. The research spun out of his own weather worries: “I really like snow, and I thought, is that still going to happen up here?” he said. But when he looked up his current home in Cumberland, Maryland, he found that it would soon feel like southern Kentucky. He groaned. “I lived in Knoxville for several years, in central Tennessee, when I was doing my Ph.D., and I couldn’t wait to get out of there because it was so hot and humid. I thought, agh, the climate’s following me up here.”

Even though Fitzpatrick works with climate data all the time—and knew, as he put it, that “it’s gonna get warmer, whatever”—he had never thought about it like this. “If I have grandkids, and they lived in the same place I do,” he said, “they might not recognize this climate that we’re living in now.”

This article originally appeared on The Atlantic.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: subway in NYC
    Transportation

    Inside Bloomberg's $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

    Drawing on his time as New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg proposes handing power and money to urban leaders as part of his Democratic presidential bid.

  2. Environment

    Neighborhoods With a History of Redlining Are Hotter on Average

    Housing discrimination during the 1930s helps explain why poorer neighborhoods experience more extreme heat.

  3. photo: a couple tries out a mattress in a store.
    Equity

    What’s the Future of the ‘Sleep Economy’?

    As bed-in-a-box startup Casper files for an IPO, the buzzy mattress seller is betting that the next big thing in sleep is brick-and-mortar retail outlets.

  4. photo: San Francisco skyline
    Equity

    Would Capping Office Space Ease San Francisco’s Housing Crunch?

    Proposition E would put a moratorium on new commercial real estate if affordable housing goals aren’t met. But critics aren’t convinced it would be effective.   

  5. Transportation

    In Paris, a Very Progressive Agenda Is Going Mainstream

    Boosted by big sustainability wins, Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pitching bold plans to make the city center “100 percent bicycle” and turn office space into housing.

×