In 1994, editors at the magazine Texas Monthly sat down to put together a list of Texas sayings, those colorful throw-away lines that can be heard across the state. At the end of it, they had more than 600, ranging from one-liners about excess pride ("all hat and no cattle") to thriftiness ("tight as a tick.") But, unsurprisingly, many of the sayings dealt with a fact of life in the Lone Star State: heat.
Over the years in Texas, it's been as "hot as a two-dollar pistol," as "hot as a stolen tamale," and as "hot as a honeymoon hotel." And according to recent research, it's going to get a lot hotter — hotter, even, "than a fur coat in Marfa."
More Americans in Texas and beyond will experience so-called "extreme heat" events in the coming decades, according to a study earlier this year from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the City University of New York. There, researchers combined data on climate change with regional population projections to paint a portrait of where climate change's effects will be felt most acutely in coming decades.
The answer is places like Central Texas, where cities like Austin and Waco have seen a population boom. That region will see an increasing number of people exposed to higher temperatures, according to the study. As a growing number of residents move to the area, record heat waves are also projected to increase.
For this study, researchers considered a heat wave a series of days where the temperature exceeds 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
"There are certain areas that will probably experience particularly large increases in the number of days above 95 degrees Fahrenheit," said Linda Mearns, a co-author of the study. "That's also where we see a lot of population movement."
Other boom areas expected to get hotter are dotted throughout the Southeast and the Southwest, as more Americans relocate from colder climates for jobs, opportunity, or warmth itself.
In contrast, some areas that are getting hotter won't have as great an impact on the population at large. Only one region over, in West Texas, there will be a similarly large number of days above 95 degrees, but no predicted population boom like the one sweeping Austin and environs. So while West Texas heats up, far fewer people will experience the heat waves there, Mearns said.
What the study didn't explore but which Mearns said will be relevant in the future is how these hotter days will impact the population directly. For example, while air conditioning is taken for granted in many warm American climates, she wonders how elderly or low-income residents will budget as it becomes an everyday necessity in the future.
One possible place to look for answers is Louisville, Kentucky, which was identified in 2013 as the city experiencing the fastest rising temperatures in the country. Researchers at Georgia Tech studied the change in temperatures from the 1960s until 2010, comparing the temperature difference between major cities and the surrounding countryside. What they found was that while many cities qualified as "heat islands" where concrete, dense population, and a lack of green space drove up temperatures, Louisville's rate was double the average.
And now the same Georgia Tech research team is looking for solutions. One of the culprits, they believe, is the city's striking lack of trees — only 30 percent of the city has tree cover, compared to 45 percent in Atlanta, according to a Next City report. The project's leader, Georgia Tech urban planner Brian Stone, even testified in front of a city commission in support for increased planting.
Louisville, though an extreme case, isn't alone in American cities. Atlanta's "heat island" effect, for example, is so strong that it can even create its own thunderstorms. The federal government was concerned enough to run a heat island project for cities in the 1990s, which helped Salt Lake City and Chicago upgrade their green space to cut down on heat.
But climate change is beginning to have a measurable impact on temperature nationwide and more Americans are heading to warmer climates regardless of whether cities adapt. For Mearns, the results seem rather inevitable when viewed through the data her team gathered.
"Yes, climate is changing, but many other things are changing, as well," she said. Where people choose to live, she said, ultimately "will make a tremendous difference about who is really exposed to whatever climate change comes along."