Summertime is primetime for national parks. As snow melts, wildflowers bloom and waterfalls roar, generations of visitors have flocked to the natural wonders that dot the American landscape (to say nothing of all the amazing cultural sites the National Park Service protects).
The National Park Service was created a century ago — August 25, 1916 to be exact — to keep an eye on the growing treasure trove of national parks. It’s been a good century as more and more land has been set aside and annual visitors now number more than 300 million, but it’s also not been without challenges. Chief among them is climate change, which will drastically alter national park landscapes in the coming decades including cranking up the heat.
As part of Climate Central’s ongoing States at Risk project, we analyzed just how much hotter parks are projected to get later this century. We looked at the future summer temperatures in all the parks in the Lower 48 states except Dry Tortugas National Park (sorry, Fort Jefferson lovers!) assuming greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend.
The results could make you sweat. Parks are projected to have summers that are 8-12°F hotter by 2100. That means currently cool mountainous parks could be as hot as the plains. Parks in the Southeast, already a pretty hot place, will face even more extreme temperatures with a climate more like southern Texas. And otherworldly Joshua Tree National Park in southern California will face the greatest geographical climate shift, with temperatures more like Abu Dhabi by 2100.
We also analyzed how many more days with extreme heat the parks could face. Extreme heat is a hallmark of global warming, and its impact will be most arresting in the national parks where people go, by design, to be outside in the summer. Like the rest of the country, parks are going to be seeing more dangerously hot days above 90°F, 95°F, and 100°F.