'Potentially fatal combinations' of heat and humidity are showing up 'decades' before they were expected

A new study has warned that "potentially fatal combinations" of humidity and heat are starting to show up around the globe, climate conditions that were not expected to show up for "decades."

The research notes that experts found 14 occasions where "wet-bulb temperatures" of more than 35 degrees Celsius in the Middle East, or the heat index of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, considered the "theoretical survivability limit" occurred. Wet-bulb temperature readings of 33 degrees Celsius have been spotted 80 times and 31 degrees have been spotted more than 1,000 times.

“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now,” said the study's lead author, Colin Raymond, in a statement. “The times these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow in direct correlation with global warming.”

Areas in the U.S. Southeast where heat/humidity mixtures have driven temperatures to ‘wet-bulb’ readings of 31 degrees C (equivalent to 125 degrees F on the “real feel” heat index). Green markers show one occurrence from 1979-2017; orange, 3; red, 10. (Credit: Colin Raymond)

Areas in the U.S. Southeast where heat/humidity mixtures have driven temperatures to ‘wet-bulb’ readings of 31 degrees C (equivalent to 125 degrees F on the “real feel” heat index). Green markers show one occurrence from 1979-2017; orange, 3; red, 10. (Credit: Colin Raymond)

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The "theoretical survivability limit" is the point where the humidity and heat would not allow the skin to cool off via sweating and potentially overheat.

Domestic extreme conditions were seen "dozens of times" in the southeastern U.S., including in east Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The researchers found the worst spots were in New Orleans and Biloxi, Miss.

Other parts of the globe that also saw repeated incidents include India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, northwestern Australia and parts of the Red Sea and the Gulf of California in Mexico.

"Wet-bulb temperatures" are used by meteorologists to measure the heat/humidity effect, also known as "the heat index." When the wet-bulb temperature reaches 32 degrees Celsius, it's the equivalent of 132 degrees Fahrenheit. The peak of 35 degrees seen is roughly 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat index ends at 127 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“It’s hard to exaggerate the effects of anything that gets into the 30s,” Raymond added.

“These measurements imply that some areas of Earth are much closer than expected to attaining sustained intolerable heat," Steven Sherwood, a climatologist at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said in the statement. "It was previously believed we had a much larger margin of safety.”

“We may be closer to a real tipping point on this than we think,” study co-author Radley Horton added.

The study was published in Science Advances.

Skeptics have largely dismissed fears over man’s impact on global warming, saying climate change has been going on since the beginning of time.

They also claim the dangers of a warming planet are being wildly exaggerated and question the impact that fossil fuels have had on climate change.

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