"Factory Smoke Blankets Clark Avenue" by Frank J. Aleksandrowicz / Public Domain

Why Americans Might Never Notice Climate Change’s Hotter Weather

Mar 1, 2019

By Robinson Meyer

In the last 50 years, climate change has altered the weather of the United States, leading to milder winters, warmer nights, and sweltering summer heat waves. These changes will intensify in the decades to come: By the end of the century, cities like Philadelphia could feel a lot like Memphis.

But a new study suggests that most Americans have not noticed these changes—and they never will.

For the last decade or so, different teams of social scientists have tried to answer the same question: Where does our sense of “normal” weather come from? Why do some days feel unusually hot and some only normally hot? Were I to compare thee to a summer’s day, would I be thinking of a lifetime of summer daysthe last few decades of summer days, or just some pictures of summer that I saw once in a book?

The new study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tries to answer this question by looking at Twitter data. Is the weather ever so unusual, the authors asked, that people tweet more about it? To find out, they matched a database of 2.1 billion geotagged tweets with another database of geotagged weather conditions. Then they filtered the tweets for weather-specific words, like drizzlyscorching, and autumnal.

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