CADILLAC — Is it getting hot in here?
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, thinks it is and its recent report says it’s only going to get worse.
All 83 counties in Michigan are getting hotter and the report, “Killer Heat in the United States: The Future of Dangerously Hot Days" predicts the number of days with heat indexes over 90 degrees will quadruple in the next 20 years, Bridge Magazine reported.
Between 1971 and 2000, Michigan averaged eight days a year with heat indexes above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. By 2050, that will rise to 34 days per year if no action is taken to stem greenhouse gases linked to climate change, the report claims.
The impact could be devastating for Michigan: destroyed crops, an increase in disease-bearing insects, dangerous conditions for outdoor workers and rising death rates, according to the report.
The following are different ways this extreme weather could potentially impact our area.
How the heat could impact health
Dr. Jennifer Morse, medical director for the Central Michigan District Health Department, worries that rising heat could hurt a variety of populations.
“When we have high heat index days, a big population that really suffers is our elderly population,‘ Morse said. “They are just very susceptible to heat changes.‘
Kevin Hughes, Health Officer for District Health Department #10, said in an email that when the heat index reaches 90 degrees and above, it’s very important to stay hydrated and out of the sun as much as possible.
"Heat-related illness can especially impact young children, older adults, and people with medical conditions, so keeping an eye on them to ensure they are okay is critical,‘ he said.
People should also never leave children or pets alone in a car, even with the windows cracked.
“Temperatures inside a car can easily be double the temperature outside, and because a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s they are more susceptible to heatstroke," Hughes said.
A report by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Michigan predicts that extreme heat mortality in Michigan will increase from 33 to 240 deaths annually by 2050 if nothing is done to combat climate change, Bridge Magazine reported.
The report includes any death prompted by extreme heat in the mortality rate, not just those from heatstroke.
Along with outdoor workers, children, the elderly, low-income communities and those with pre-existing health conditions, such as respiratory or cardiovascular illness, are at a greater risk for heat-related death.
Additionally, studies have projected an increase in premature deaths due to increases in temperature for a group of cities including Detroit in Michigan and Toledo in Ohio, according to a U.S. Global Change Resource Program report.
Less is known about how non-fatal illnesses will change in response to projected increases in heat. However, hospital admissions related to respiratory, hormonal, urinary, genital and renal problems are generally projected to increase, according to the report.
The report states the decrease in deaths and illness due to reductions in winter cold have not been as well studied as the health impacts of increased heat, but the reduction in premature deaths from cold is expected to be smaller than the increase in deaths from heat in the United States.
The MDHSS and UofM report also suggests that without climate change action, the number of emergency room visits related to heat-health issues will increase from 1,200 to 7,800. The projected cost as a result of rising mortality and ER visits is more than $290 million.
How the heat could impact tourism
Experts say increasingly mild winters will continue to shorten ski seasons and lead to less ice on lakes. That could jeopardize winter festivals and gradually upend a winter tourism economy that state estimates say generated $2.15 billion in 2017, Bridge Magazine reported.
But warmer weather could bring more summer tourism opportunities, said Michelle Rutty, a professor of sustainable tourism at Michigan State University.
That includes longer seasons for visiting state parks, camping, biking and other warmer-weather activities.
Joy VanDrie, executive director of the Downtown Cadillac Association, said in an email the type of increase in 90-degree days like predicted would “significantly change our area.‘
It would require summer activities and recreational areas to use more watering systems, increasing costs and electricity. Decreasing water tables earlier in the summer would impact boating and fishing on lakes and rivers.
In regard to winter, snowmobiling, cross country skiing and snowshoeing rely on natural snow, VanDrie said.
Skiing and snowboarding also rely on man-made snow, requiring a balance of humidity and air temperature. Ice fishing depends on less than 28-degree weather to form ice.
“So if we have less natural snow, three of our local recreational opportunities are further reduced,‘ she said.
Snowmobiling will see the most significant impact as trail permits pay for not only snow grooming on the trails but trail maintenance of which many enjoy sections of the snowmobile trails during noncold months.
Without the permit fees, who is going to pay for that maintenance? VanDrie asked.
Overall if this happens, what will emerge is increased use of fat tire and mountain bikes on trails in the winter, as well as ORV-use on the trails year-round, she said.
How the heat could impact farming
Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program specialist Jodi DeHate said rising temperatures could negatively impact agriculture.
Pork and poultry can be housed in a temperature-controlled environment and they can do really well. However, cows are more difficult, whether it’s beef or dairy and often beef cows live outside most of their lives, she said.
Cows don’t like heat, so farmers might need to change how they house animals. They have to feed cows differently when it’s hot and milk production can go down with higher temperatures, DeHate said.
Certain fruit and vegetable productions could take a hit with heat causing blossoms to fall off. With corn it could impact the tassels and pollination, as when there’s severe heat at the wrong time it can make the corn have poor pollination, DHate said.
She said she knows scientists are developing more corn varieties that use less water and if Michigan sees a lot more heat we could see more crops that need less water planted and harvested in our area.
Rachel Licker, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said Michigan as a state with over 51,000 farms has agricultural workers that are especially at risk for higher temperatures.
“What we found was that the conditions that we could be seeing in the future are conditions that could be dangerous to outdoor workers,‘ she said. “Those people are uniquely vulnerable to extreme heat.‘
In some parts of the Midwest, warming has extended growing seasons and bolstered production of crops.
But warming also will bring more rainfall that worsens soil erosion and improves breeding conditions for crop-damaging pests, according to the National Climate Assessment, a federal government report released last year.
“Projected changes in precipitation, coupled with rising extreme temperatures before mid-century, will reduce Midwest agricultural productivity to levels of the 1980s without major technological advances,‘ according to the climate assessment.
But farming techniques can actually help mitigate the effect of changing weather patterns, DeHate said.
Agriculture could help reduce some carbon in the atmosphere by using cover crops and less tillage (the preparation of land for growing crops) which also reduces soil erosion, nutrient runoff and increases water infiltration in soil.
This is “helping farmers better weather the weather,‘ DeHate said in a text message conversation.
She said farmers look at the weather year by year and decide how they’re going to handle it, and some are very skeptical about climate change.
Farmers who have been working 50 to 60 years say people have been saying the world is going to end that long. Each time the deadline for the end of the world comes it is changed or the technology has changed by then, she said.
However, you can look at the data and say we will probably have a warmer winter, she said.
“Everybody can agree the weather patterns in the past 15 years have changed,‘ she said.
-Bridge Magazine contributed to this report.