Climate Change
4:20 pm
Tue July 31, 2012

New report: in St. Louis, higher temps are the new normal

St. Louis is getting hotter. With this summer’s record-breaking temperatures, that probably doesn’t sound like news.

But a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows our hot weather isn’t an anomaly — things have been heating up across the Midwest for the past six decades.

The study found that on average, St. Louis now has twice the number of very hot, humid, summer days as it did in the 1940s. Nighttime temperatures are also on the rise, and heat waves of three or more days are becoming more common.

Report co-author, UCS climate scientist Todd Sanford, says these changes aren’t limited to large urban centers like St. Louis and Chicago. Sanford says smaller towns like Columbia, Mo., and Peoria, Ill., show similar trends, “indicating that the changes for St. Louis aren’t simply due to an urban heat island effect, but seem to indicate longer term changes in the background climate.”

St. Louis City Health Director Pam Walker says the report reinforces that in our region, extreme high temperatures are now what she calls “the new norm.”

“This is something we’re going to deal with every year in St. Louis City,” Walker said. “It’s not going to go away, and we need to prepare for it just like we prepare for flu season, TB outbreaks, many of the other things that we do in public health.”

Walker says preparing for hotter weather is going to take year-round planning and research.

She says among other efforts, her office has been reaching out to area schools – many of which lack air conditioning – to make sure they have a plan in place for dealing with extreme heat.

Her office has also been reviewing building codes and may require landlords to provide air conditioners to tenants.

Jacqueline Hutchinson, the director of city services for the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County says her organization wants to see more funds allocated to help area residents pay for higher summer utility bills.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience