Aug 16, 2022 - News

Richmond's scorching hot future

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

Parts of Virginia, including Chesterfield and Henrico, are part of an emerging "extreme heat belt," where the heat index could reach 125°F at least one day a year by 2053, according to a new study.

  • Yes, 125°. Fahrenheit.
  • The findings come from a hyperlocal analysis of current and future extreme heat events published Monday by the nonprofit First Street Foundation.

Why it matters: Extreme heat is connected to myriad health issues and will also increase locals' use of electricity for cooling by up to 15% in the Richmond area, per the report.

  • More than 2,500 people in Virginia visited an ER this year due to heat-related illnesses, according to data from the Virginia Department of Health.

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.

  • While the Richmond area is only at risk of one day with a 125°F heat index in 30 years, the number of "hot days" — defined by the study as days when the "feels like" temperature is 105°F or higher — will more than double from today.
  • Back 30 years ago, the Richmond area had zero "hot days." This year, it's had seven.

The intrigue: The number of days of extreme heat could be worse here, but our proximity to the river and ocean helps keep the region cooler.

  • "The protection effect of water keeps much of the Southeast from reaching the 125-degree heat index threshold, but we do find that most of that area will see an increase in dangerous days," says Jeremy Porter, the chief research officer on the study, referring to days with a heat index greater than 100°F.

Zoom out: The report shows a country that will have to grapple with the effects of increased heat exposure nearly everywhere, though there will be distinctions based on geography.

  • For example, the study finds that in 2053, the West will have the highest chance for long durations with "local hot days," which are days that exceed the temperatures typically experienced for a particular area.
  • The Gulf and Southeast will see the highest chances and longest duration of exposure to "dangerous days," the report found.

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