Aug 17, 2022 - News

Extreme heat will pound Eastern NC in the coming decades

Note: Shaded counties are those that will, on average, have 0.5 days or more at or above a 125F° heat index in 2053; Data: First Street Foundation; Map: Axios Visuals

More than a third of North Carolina's counties, most of them in the Coastal Plain, will have days where it feels like 125°F by 2053.

  • And nearly all 100 counties can expect more days when the air temperature alone hits 100 degrees — in some places they'll see two additional weeks of 100-degree days each year.
  • That's according to a new hyperlocal analysis of current and future extreme heat events published Monday by the nonprofit First Street Foundation.

Why it matters: All those tales North Carolinians hear from their Memaws and their great-grandpappies about long-ago days burning up in the Southern heat — they're nothing compared to the generations coming behind us will endure.

  • And those who feel it worst in our state are east of Interstate 95, in already-baking rural flatlands where poverty is prevalent, population is plummeting, and hurricanes are almost familial guests every fall.

What's happening: The eastern side of the state will be at the center of an "extreme heat" region that cups the southeastern coast from Delmarva to coastal Georgia.

  • "Extreme heat" is defined as having a maximum heat index, or how the air feels from the combination of air temperature and relative humidity, of 125°F.
  • In the Triangle, Wake County isn't on the list of those expected to see days that feel like 125°, but Durham and Orange counties are.

The big picture: In just 30 years, climate change will cause the Lower 48 states to be a far hotter and more precarious place to be during the summer, Axios’ Andrew Freedman reports.

  • But some places will feel it worse.

This report, which is based on First Street's peer reviewed heat model, identifies the impact of increasing temperatures at a property level, and how the frequency, duration, and intensity of extremely hot days will change over the next 30 years from a changing climate.

  • The number of Americans currently exposed to "extreme heat” is 8 million, the report shows, but during the next three decades, that number is expected to balloon to 107 million.
  • The Gulf and Southeast will see the highest chances and longest duration of exposure to what are termed "dangerous days," with a heat index greater than 100°F, the report found.

Threat level: The study also calculates the warming temperatures’ effect on cooling costs.

  • It currently costs about $894 million to cool North Carolina’s homes each year. By 2053 that number climbs to $1.018 billion — a $123 million increase, the seventh-largest increase in the United States.

The bottom line: Turns out the old cliche, "It's not the heat, it’s the humidity," is only partially true. It's all of it, and it's only going to get worse.


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