When air gets really hot, like 120 degrees hot, it means two things for the air-traveling public in the Southwestern United States. One, your plane will have to go faster to generate enough airflow over its wings to get enough lift to get off the ground. But two, the engines on those planes will generate less thrust.
In other words, your flight could get canceled because it's literally too hot to fly.
And with the planet only getting warmer, delayed or canceled flights are just some of the economic consequences. Flight cancellations due to heat are pretty rare. But behind the scenes, airlines regularly make weight adjustments for the heat.
“Almost any day there is some sort of weight restriction in the summertime just due to the temperatures and the length of the runway, which is another component of the performance calculation,” said Billy Nolen with Airlines for America, an industry trade group.
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So maybe a plane will carry a little less fuel or a little less cargo to compensate. With rising global temperatures, other businesses may have to compensate, too.
“The big economic impact is reduced labor productivity,” said Kate Gordon with the Risky Business Project, which looks at the economic effects of climate change. “Any kind of outdoor activity — transportation, construction, anything manufacturing that's outside, we're going to see that kind of reduced labor productivity and potentially just inability to work during the day.”
She expects to see some of those jobs moving to nighttime shifts in the future to beat soaring temperatures. More frequent heat waves could also affect the agriculture sector and the energy grid.
“We're also concerned a bit about large transformers in the grid,” said John Reilly with the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. “Older ones are very vulnerable to high heat and could kind of go down and cause a major outage of electricity.”
As in blackouts, just when you need your air conditioner the most.
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