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Las Vegas Is America's Fastest- Warming City

A man cools off in a water mist along the Las Vegas Strip, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Las Vegas.
(AP Photo/John Locher)

A man cools off in a water mist along the Las Vegas Strip, Thursday, July 26, 2018, in Las Vegas.

If you think Las Vegas has been getting hotter, you’re not imagining it.

Temperatures are rising around the world, and Southern Nevada is experiencing the worst of it.

Las Vegas has been named the fastest-warming city in the United States by Climate Central, an organization that studies climate change.

Sean Sublette is a meteorologist for Climate Central. He said while the temperature change doesn't seem very big, it is. The average temperature in the United States has gone up between 1.3 to 1.9 degrees since the 1880s.

“As that average moves warmer, that is really going to increase the number of days that are above that average … and decrease in the number of days that are a lot cooler than average,” he said.

Eventually, Sublette said, those incremental changes will change our city. For instance, the hotter the climate, the more damage to our infrastructure, including melting pavement and buckling rail lines.

“Part of the issue here is that how much warming occurs in the next 20, 40 years and beyond is going to be governed by how much more carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases we put into the atmosphere globally,” he said.

Sublette said Southern Nevada is suffering from a one-two punch when it comes to warming temperatures. 

One problem is the global issue of rising temperatures, which have gone up over the 50 years as humans have put more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Sublette said climate scientists know human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are the "dominant force" in temperature change because solar output has declined slightly over the past 30 to 40 years.

The second part of the problem for Nevada is the phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect.

Sublette explained that the concrete and asphalt of the city absorbs heat and heats up the air around it. The hot temperatures stick around at night. unlike the natural desert, which cools down fast at night.

“There has been a dramatic urbanization there in Southern Nevada over the past 50 years," he said. “That is why Vegas is warming so much more than other places in the country.”

Sublette said if smaller amounts of greenhouse gases are released globally and Southern Nevada does more to limit the effects of urbanization, we could see only a few more degrees of warming.

“But if we don’t change the way we’re using energy, putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere we’re looking at temperatures on average that are seven or nine degrees warmer by 70 or 80 years from now," he said.

That would mean the typical summer high temperatures would be between 108 and 112 and the occasional 110 to 115 high temperatures will zoom to 120 to 122.

Sublette said people can plant more trees, recycle more, drive less frequently, and use electric vehicles to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. 

Sean Sublette, meteorologist, Climate Central

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.