50 ways the weather could change in the next 50 years

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April 8, 2019
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50 ways the weather could change in the next 50 years

In 2016, the United States signed the Paris Agreement—a global pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions to pre-industrial levels. The goal: keep the Earth's temperature from rising higher than 2 degrees Celsius (3.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Every country in the world has joined the pledge. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement. While Trump has been vocal in his disbelief in climate change, scientists are more than 95% certain that humans are causing the Earth to heat up at an unprecedented rate, worsening extreme weather events like hurricanes, flooding, drought, and intense heat waves.

Global temperatures are already about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than they were in the 1800s. A degree or two may not seem like a big deal, but if the Earth warms 2 degrees Celsius instead of 1.5, that could increase heat waves, kill coral reefs, melt the summer ice in the Arctic, and further strengthen storms. In 2019, the World Meteorological Organization released a study saying climate change catalyzed extreme weather that affected 62 million people in 2018; floods and droughts were the most damaging. In March of 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai brought deadly flooding to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi; scientists think it might be the worst weather-related storm in Southern Hemisphere history. The past four years have also broken records for heat worldwide; the Lucifer heat wave scorched Europe in 2017, and England's hottest summer on record was 2018.

One reason weather can cause more damage when the world gets hotter is because warmer air can hold more moisture. That means when there is a rainstorm or blizzard, more precipitation comes with it, drowning cities or covering them in feet of snow. In 50 years, scientists predict that extreme weather exacerbated by a warming planet will disrupt ocean currents and extend heat waves.

Using data from news reports, the World Meteorological Organization, the Climate Impact Lab, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Stacker created a list of 50 ways weather could change in the next 50 years. Click through to see which areas may be affected the most.

You may also like: Counties projected to have the most extreme heat days in 2050

Almost every U.S. city would get warmer

In the next few decades, both winter and summer days are predicted to get hotter in almost every U.S. city. Depending on the location, the change in temperature might be slight, or it could be dramatic. Every large American city—save San Diego—will see a rise of at least 3 degrees Fahrenheit on average. Heat waves could last longer and some areas in the Southwest could get so hot it will be dangerous to venture outdoors for too long.

Cities in the Midwest could see most dramatic winter shifts

Midwestern cities such as Chicago and Detroit are set to experience an uptick in their winter lows by about 5.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Cities in Montana, Minnesota, and Illinois are also predicted to have hotter summers, experiencing an average increase of 6 degrees Fahrenheit.

Climate change might cause more “weather whiplash”

During the winter of 2019, places in the Midwest and Northeast experienced sub-zero temperature shifts that changed 50 degrees in a matter of days. This “weather whiplash”—which can burst pipes and cause flooding because of quickly melting snow and ice—might be more common in a warming world. The dramatic change was due in part to a shift in the polar vortex, which some scientists say might be caused by the warming in the Arctic.

Osaka, Japan could see more flooding

Osaka, Japan is already seeing late-season typhoons and extreme rainfall. By 2070, economists predict that a rise in global sea-level along with storm surges could cause coastal flooding so bad it could cost Osaka $1 trillion. The country is already trying to deal with the effects caused by climate change, but they haven't quite figured out the best method to protect the city in the future. “We anticipate that Osaka will be affected by natural disasters caused by climate change, but we have yet to establish exactly what might happen or how much financial damage they would cause,” said Toshikazu Nakaaki with the Osaka municipal government's environment bureau.

Alexandria, Egypt could be underwater

Tourism is already taking a hit because of flooding in Egypt's seaside towns close to the Mediterranean; some of the beaches have already washed away. If current predictions hold true, Alexandria, Egypt will be partially submerged by 2070. As the end of the century approaches, the sea could rise as much as two feet.

The Middle East could get warmer and drier

The sea near Egyptian fishing towns is already warming; some say it's forcing bigger fish to reside farther out in deeper waters, causing a problem for fishermen. In the next 40 years, the Middle East itself is also predicted to get hotter—possibly by an average of a few degrees—and to receive less rainfall. This change could affect agricultural production and lead to food scarcity.

Heavy storms could drench communities more severely

If the Earth continues to warm, there will be more water evaporating from the ocean and more water vapor in the atmosphere. This will lead to more rain and snowfall in each heavy storm. Areas in the Northeast have already experienced a 74% increase in their precipitation in their heaviest winter and summer storms.

Greenland could be ice-free in the summer

The ice sheet on Greenland is melting at a faster rate than previously thought, which is contributing to sea level rise. If it hits a tipping point within the next few decades, the melting will accelerate, leaving Greenland ice-free in the summer. "Rather than increasing steadily as climate warms, Greenland will melt increasingly more and more for every degree of warming. The melting and sea level rise we've observed already will be dwarfed by what may be expected in the future as the climate continues to warm," said Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University's School of Earth and Environment.

Heat waves could increase

Over the coming decades, temperatures are set to rise during summer. That makes the air feel hot, but it also reduces the moisture in the soil, which makes heat waves even worse. Climate models show that the top 5% of hottest days during the summers of 1950–1979 will happen about 70% of the time by 2035–2064 in the U.S. That means that what used to happen about once every 20 years will start happening every few years. This change could be especially dangerous to the health of the elderly and anyone who works outside for a living.

Droughts could get worse

Between 2050–2100, areas in the southwestern U.S. and central Great Plains could see the worst droughts in nearly 1,000 years. “Even where rain may not change much, greater evaporation will dry out the soils,” said Benjamin Cook, a research scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. While scientists aren't sure exactly when these extreme drought conditions will start, they are creating more drought-resistant crops to prepare.

The Atacama Desert could experience more flooding

In 2015, the famously dry Atacama Desert, located in Chile and Peru, experienced unprecedented flooding within a 24-hour period. The desert saw as much rainfall in one day as it usually does over a couple of years. A confluence of atmospheric factors led to the above-average precipitation, but the warming moisture from the ocean contributed.

Norway could get three more months of growing season

More warm days would lengthen growing season for many farmers. In places like Norway, that could mean three more months for warm-weather crops that are usually grown farther south. However, the lack of light during the polar night season would prevent some growth despite the warmer temperature. In the U.S., the frost-free season could extend a couple months in western states.

Hurricanes could become stronger

In 2018, Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston. Scientists estimate that climate change contributed to a 15–38% increase in the storm's rainfall. Scientists predict that climate change will contribute to stronger and longer-lasting Atlantic hurricanes because a warmer ocean means more energy for storms. “A hurricane is actually a relief valve for the tropical ocean,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Antarctic ice will continue to melt

Ice loss in the Arctic has tripled in the past few decades, coming mostly from areas near Greenland and Alaska. Ice in Antarctica is melting at the fastest rate on record. If sea ice continues to melt, it could raise sea levels by 25 centimeters, or a little less than a foot, by 2070.

Pacific Northwest might get even more rain

The average temperature of the Pacific Northwest has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900 and is on track to see warmer temperatures with heavier precipitation—including more rain instead of snow in winter—and more drought. The area could see heat-scorched crops and more landslides, flooding, and wildfires in the coming decades.

The Northeast might see higher storm surges

In 2012, Superstorm Sandy made an unexpected turn and hit the New Jersey coast, something that should only happen about once every 714 years. Scientists are still debating whether the storm was caused by climate change—which would make the event more likely in the future—but rising sea levels have led to higher storm surges.

California could see extreme wet and dry weather

California is set to experience more extremes when it comes to wet and dry weather. Because of this, the state might see flooding one year and drought the next. In 2018, the West Coast state had the deadliest and most expensive wildfire season on record.

Arctic sea ice set to disappear in Alaska

Arctic sea ice in Alaska that sticks around for the summer is projected to basically disappear by 2050. Most glaciers in Alaska have already gotten smaller. This change will affect sea level, the temperature of the ocean, and the entire marine ecosystem.

Warmer winters means ski resorts might close

Climatologists estimate that about two-thirds of ski resorts could close by 2100. In the next two decades alone, climate scientists project some resorts could lose a month of the ski season because of warming temperatures and melting snow.

Great Lakes might be wet in spring, dry in summer

As the air warms in the Great Lakes area—home to about one-fifth of the globe's surface fresh water—the area will likely experience more extreme weather that could flood certain areas, negatively affecting water quality and leading to erosion. The area's growing season may be longer, but wet springs could make planting early difficult. Experts expect a 10–30% decrease in corn and soybean production as the century comes to a close.

Forest fires could be much larger

Within the next 20 years, states in the west could see a 500% increase in the amount of area scorched by wildfires in a given year. Scientists predict that increasing temperatures—around 4 degrees Fahrenheit—could mean 50 fewer days of snowpack and a longer fire season. Forest fires will increase, but only as long as enough forests exist to provide kindling.

Extreme weather could affect military bases and personnel

In 2018, a report showed that half of U.S. military bases had already been affected by extreme weather and “climate-related risks.” In 2019, the U.S. Air Force asked for $4.9 billion to help rebuild some of their bases heavily damaged by natural disasters, including flooding in the Midwest and hurricanes in Florida.

Arctic spring will come earlier

Spring is already arriving more than two weeks early in the Arctic. This is likely to continue in the future. “The Arctic is experiencing greater advances of spring than lower latitudes,” said Eric Post, a fellow of the John Muir Institute and polar ecologist at the University of California, Davis.

Australia could see more marine heatwaves

Oceanic heat waves have increased by more than 50% in many parts of the world in the past century. The warming of the Tasman Sea contributed to one of New Zealand's hottest winters. If temperatures continue to rise, Australia will see more extreme rainfall but less precipitation overall.

A warmer ocean could destroy the Great Barrier Reef

In 2016, the warming of the water around the Great Barrier Reef in Australia caused massive coral bleaching. Scientists hadn't expected to see such an event until 2050. "93% of the excess [heat] from human-caused climate change is being stored in the ocean," said Jeff Berardelli, a meteorologist for CBS News. "That ocean heat is coming back to haunt us by compromising ocean life, like killing coral reefs, disrupting ocean life support systems, and exacerbating extreme weather patterns on land."

90-degree days set to become more common

In the next 50 years, extremely hot days will become more common. In places that are already warm, the increase could last for most of the year. By the end of the century, New Delhi, India, could see up to eight months of days that are 90 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer.

El Nino events may get more severe

El Nino is the warming phase of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). It happens when the surface of the Pacific Ocean gets warmer than normal. This phenomenon affects rainfall and temperature around the world in different ways. In 50 years, the effects of an El Nino event—hurricanes in Florida, warmer temperatures in southern Asia, drought in Australia—are expected to become more severe.

The Southeast may see more tornadoes

In March 2019, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico mixed with polar air to cause a deadly tornado with winds of 170 miles per hour that tore through Alabama and Georgia, killing at least 23 people. States in an area of the Southeast, which meteorologists call Dixie Alley, have seen an uptick in tornado activity in the past few decades. Scientists don't know if climate change is to blame, but the increase in tornadoes has overlapped with the warming of the oceans.

Flooding may happen more often in the Amazon Basin

Dangerous flooding along the Amazon River in Brazil may get even worse in 50 years. “Catastrophic” flooding that used to happen every 20 years now happens every four. Researchers point to the “wet season getting wetter and dry season getting drier” as the cause of the intense floods, something that is indirectly worsened by climate change.

Africa set to get hotter and drier

In 2018, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation weather system, coupled with a lack of rainfall, allowed the Sahara Desert to get larger. Africa is already the world's hottest continent, which makes it more vulnerable to climate change.

Extreme weather in Africa will likely get worse

In March 2019, Africa experienced what some are saying was the worst weather-related disaster the southern hemisphere had ever seen. Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique with 125-mph winds. A storm surge of more than 6 feet flooded areas of Malawi and Zimbabwe. Experts say climate change will make storms like Idai more severe in the future.

Atmospheric rivers could get bigger

Atmospheric rivers are slim jets of air that carry a lot of water vapor—think “rivers in the sky.” They are usually a few hundred miles wide, and they dump rain and snow when they hit land. Scientists forecast they could get 25% bigger because of climate change, increasing rain and snow events by 50% as the end of the century approaches. While atmospheric rivers can bring much needed rainfall, they can also lead to flooding and mudslides.

Bomb cyclones and nor'easter storms might become more common

In 2018, multiple nor'easter storms, including some called bomb cyclones, pummeled the northeastern United States. Scientists said the warming of Arctic air is a likely contributor. If temperatures continue to rise, these could be the new normal during winters to come. In March 2019, a bomb cyclone—which occurs when atmospheric pressure drops quickly—became the strongest storm on record to hit Colorado; it was equivalent to a Category 2 hurricane. The storm also caused massive flooding as it moved through the Midwest.

Canada might experience more floods and fires, and less fish

In 2018, Montreal experienced a record-breaking fire season, thunderstorms that caused flooding in Toronto, and a heat wave that killed at least 70 people. Experts expect these weather events to increase in the coming decades. In the next 30 years, Canadians may also see a decline in their fisheries as wild salmon and herring swim upstream for colder waters. These fish “are among the most important species commercially, culturally, and nutritionally for First Nations,” said Lauren Weatherdon, who pursued research on the topic while at the University of British Columbia. “This could have large implications for communities who have been harvesting these fish and shellfish for millennia.”

Hawaii could see higher temperatures and more extreme weather

The Hawaiian Islands may be known as a tropical paradise, but climate change is already causing unsafe weather conditions for tourists. In 2019, high winds and waves became dangerous for those in the area. Some areas could see hotter days along with reduced rainfall, which could cause a problem with the availability of fresh drinking water on the island.

More drastic weather could lead to more deaths

Wildfires, intense storms, and flooding are already killing people throughout the world. As 2080 approaches, up to 30 times more people could die from heat-related causes in particularly vulnerable areas like Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines.

Weather could make air condition worse

Hotter temperatures will lead to a longer allergy season while also increasing ozone and smog, aggravating eyes, and making breathing more difficult for those with sensitive lungs. More rain also means more mold, fungi, and other pollutants inside people's homes or workplaces.

Weather events could spawn a health crisis

Extreme weather events like hurricanes, flooding, and other storms could make transportation more difficult during emergencies and hospitals could lose power more often. Humidity and heat mixed with more rain will also provide a breeding ground for Lyme disease-spreading ticks, which could proliferate in the eastern U.S. as 2080 approaches.

China could experience intense heat waves

By 2070, parts of East Asia could get so hot that even healthy people might die if they are outside for six hours. Hundreds of millions of Chinese residents in densely populated areas like Beijing may have to relocate in 50 years to escape the high temperatures and humidity, because when there is too much moisture in the air, the body can't cool itself off. When that happens, it's “like a sunburn, but inside the body,” said Camilo Mora, a researcher at the University of Hawaii.

Arizona monsoons will likely be less frequent, more intense

Monsoons, which cause dust storms and flash flooding, are the largest weather threat to central and southern Arizona. While scientists predict that there will be fewer of these storms in the future, a warmer climate could increase the severity of monsoons, bringing more rain and wind.

Effects of climate change could hasten migration in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is smaller than some U.S. states, but 165 million people live there. When it rains for extended periods of time, more than one-fifth of the area can flood. By 2050, more than 13 million people are set to migrate within the country because severe weather is either causing floods or droughts in areas that may not recover. “People have always coped with flooding, and they learned how to cope with death,” said Tasneem Siddiqui, a political scientist with the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit at the University of Dhaka. “But with climate change, many of the damages are permanent.”

Summers in the U.K. set to be hotter

If greenhouse gases continue to warm the Earth, a summer day in 2070 in the United Kingdom could heat up an additional 5.4 degrees Celsius (9.7 degrees Fahrenheit). England experienced a record-breaking sweltering summer in 2018.

Japan might get cloudier

In 2017, rainy conditions reduced sunshine in Japan to below-normal levels. Scientists theorize that human-induced climate change contributed more than El Nino to affect weather patterns that brought in the cloudy conditions.

Higher temperatures could lead to more immigration

As temperatures rise around the globe, countries closer to the equator are going to feel the effects first. Immigration to the U.S. from Mexico could increase as the country's citizens try to escape the heat.

Shorter winter but more intense blizzards

Winters in the future may be shorter, but snowstorms are probably going to be stronger. The cold season may get shorter, but warmer temperatures will increase the amount of moisture in the air, which means blizzards would dump more snow when they come.

El Nino will likely have a stronger effect on Singapore

Within the next 30 years, Singapore will likely experience more intense heat with periods of too much and too little rain. While the warming of the planet is a factor, the fact that Singapore has replaced forests with buildings isn't helping disperse the heat. The country also becomes hotter and drier the stronger El Nino is, something that is likely to have more of an effect the warmer the planet gets.

Nicaragua may face more food insecurity and disease

Crops like coffee, corn, and beans are already suffering because of rising temperatures in Nicaragua, a country highly vulnerable to climate change. “The variability of the climate is starting to become an almost normal process, with long periods of drought and then floods,” Germán Quezada, a climate specialist at Centro Humboldt, said in 2014. Nicaragua has also seen outbreaks of diseases like Zika because of the warmer and wetter conditions that accompany climate change.

More of the world would be a desert

If global warming continues, a quarter of the land on the planet could become a desert by 2050. “Our research predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20 to 30% of the world's land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2 degrees Celsius,” said Manoj Joshi, the lead researcher on a study published in Nature Climate Change. “But two-thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification if warming is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).”

Italy might get fewer olives

Scientists cited extreme weather and climate change as the “main driver” for Italy's low 2019 olive yields. The country saw a 57% decline in its olive production after Italy experienced “spring ice waves,” droughts, and floods. “Freezing temperatures in the Mediterranean are anomalous for us. In any direction, the extremes are important and indeed, they are predicted by climate change scenarios,” said Riccardo Valentini, director of the Euro-Mediterranean Center for climate change.

Hong Kong might see less winter and more extreme weather

More than a decade ago, experts at the Hong Kong Observatory warned that winters in the country could “vanish” within 50 years. In 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut—the strongest storm ever to hit Thailand—uprooted trees and caused flooding. Since a warming planet is likely to increase extreme weather events in the coming decades, the government is trying to fortify the country's most vulnerable areas.

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