Approximately 3,331 people could die every year from extreme heat waves in New York City by the 2080s, Columbia University scientists warn. The total number of hot days will increase up to three times by the 2080s, causing dehydration, heat exhaustion and respiratory illnesses.

The hot days are days with temperatures higher than 32 degrees Celsius or 37 degrees Celsius. By the 2080s, the New York City temperatures could resemble that of Norfolk, Virginia.

“We know climate change is creating more days of extreme heat, putting more people at risk for death in the coming decades,” adds study author Elisaveta Petkova, a project director at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at the university. “Our study shows that many of these deaths can be averted by limiting greenhouse gas emissions and pursuing measures to help people adapt to high temperatures.”

heat waves

Intense heat will cause thousands of death in New York by the 2080s. Credit: Flickr/Matthew Kenwrick

The revelation comes from the new climate model that took population, morality, and temperature data into account.  Unlike other models, this one included people’s adaptation strategies, population growth and greenhouse gas level estimate.

However, we can prevent 1,779 deaths if the climate maintains the greenhouse gas representative concentration pathways 4.5 and 8.5. Higher levels could save even 1,198 more lives.

Nevertheless, residents in New York City have practiced measures to prevent the consequences of the rise in temperature. New Yorkers use air conditioning, which will allow them to survive the heat. From 39 percent in 1979, the number of households with air conditioning has increased up to 84 percent in 2003.

Moreover, researchers say their resilience can even be boosted by using reflective roofs and planting more trees. They can also be shielded from the heat if authorities will create heat warning systems as well as cooling centers.

According to the study’s senior author Patrick Kinney, the climate model can be used by authorities in their campaign against climate change to encourage people to help their cause. Kinney is a professor in Environmental Health Sciences of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health as well as the director of Climate and Health Program.

The research team suggests more investigations about the effect of population size on deaths from heat waves. The study is now available online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.