Special Report

The Places on Earth Most at Risk for Record Heat Waves

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8. China, Beijing region
> Time elapsed since record heat wave: 100 years
> Current record temperature: 99.7 °F
> 1-in-100 worst-case scenario temperature: 100.0 °F
> Population, 2020: 250.3 million
> Projected population growth by 2050: 93.0%

The world’s most-populous country, for now, had to deal with widespread sweltering heat waves in 2022 in which more than 900 million of the country’s 1.41 billion people broiled under numerous heat warnings. Residents of the Beijing region – roughly the same latitude as San Francisco – are susceptible to unusual spikes in temperature. This is because of the urban heat island effect in this densely-populated region that includes the capital city, where urban temperatures are magnified by infrastructure like buildings and roads. In 2017, Beijing’s heat index – a real temperature measure that takes humidity into account – hit nearly 115 degrees F.

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7. Australia, Queensland region
> Time elapsed since record heat wave: 94 years
> Current record temperature: 111.6 °F
> 1-in-100 worst-case scenario temperature: 111.7 °F
> Population, 2020: 0.4 million
> Projected population growth by 2050: 166.0%

Researchers at Australia’s James Cook University released a study in March that found residents of the country’s northwestern Queensland state had a 5% greater risk of dying during heat waves due to their effect on the elderly, the poor, or people with certain medical conditions. But the chances of heat-related death were higher for Queenslanders living in the urban centers of Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, and Gold Coast. The paper also found that the number of cumulative heat wave days in 455 Queensland regions increased from 9,504 in 2010-11 to 31,236 in 2018-19, according to the Australian Broadcast Corporation.

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6. Argentina, northwestern
> Time elapsed since record heat wave: 92 years
> Current record temperature: 92.8 °F
> 1-in-100 worst-case scenario temperature: 93.0 °F
> Population, 2020: 4.1 million
> Projected population growth by 2050: 101.0%

Weather stations in northern Argentina measured local record-setting heat waves at the end of 2022. One station near the border with Paraguay and Bolivia recorded a reading of 114.8 degrees on Dec. 7, “the hottest temperature recorded in the world that day,” according to U.K.-based news service Carbon Brief. The heat wave was unusual because it occurred after an unusually cool spring and before the peak of the austral summer, which occurs from December to February in the Southern Hemisphere.

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5. Central Europe
> Time elapsed since record heat wave: 91 years
> Current record temperature: 97.9 °F
> 1-in-100 worst-case scenario temperature: 98.4 °F
> Population, 2020: 110.3 million
> Projected population growth by 2050: 115.0%

Europe sweltered under an intense heat wave last summer, with record temperatures in Britain and France. The heat dome quickly shifted eastward, delivering triple-digit temperatures to Germany before spiking temperatures in Poland and other parts of Central Europe. The region shares the same latitude as southern Canada and northern United States, where summer temperatures historically tend to be milder.

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4. Papua New Guinea
> Time elapsed since record heat wave: 90 years
> Current record temperature: 90.5 °F
> 1-in-100 worst-case scenario temperature: 90.7 °F
> Population, 2020: 7.5 million
> Projected population growth by 2050: 126.0%

The threat of extreme heat in Papua New Guinea is classified as “medium” based on a model used by the World Bank-affiliated natural hazard tracker ThinkHazard. “This means that there is more than a 25% chance that at least one period of prolonged exposure to extreme heat, resulting in heat stress, will occur in the next five years,” in this Oceanic country located north of eastern Australia. The developing country, however, where a large portion of the population rely on subsistence farming, lacks many of the resources available to more affluent countries to prepare for extreme heat wave events.

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