In the news
As public health officials began late last week to warn of the risks of extreme heat temperatures, posting heat advisories in 23 states, dangerous temperatures and humidity moved across the central United States, spreading eastward this past weekend into early this week.
Heat is a leading weather-related killer in the U.S., according to the National Weather Service. Some populations are more vulnerable to extreme heat, such as the elderly, the very young, the low income, and outdoor workers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, extreme heat causes an average of 658 deaths a year, more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and lightning combined. In addition, an Environmental Protection Agency report tallies more than 9,000 deaths since 1979 that listed heat as the underlying cause. However, that number may be severely over-reported because of the lack of standards over what constitutes a heat-related death.
- Access to air conditioning is generally cited as the most immediate response to the threat of high heat, including providing cooling centers for those who can’t afford their own AC.
- Long term, AC may contribute to the problem of rising temperatures, adding heat to the outdoor environment, as well as strain the power infrastructure and risk debilitating power outages.
- Cities amplify heat wave risk through lack of shady vegetation, use of heat-soaking building materials and even the height and spacing of buildings.
- Cities worsen the risk of heat-related illness during heat waves because they also tend to have higher temperatures at night, which is when the body normally cools off after hot daytime weather.
- Programs such as cool or green roofs, greater greenery and cool pavements can reduce urban heat islands.
Questions to ask
- Is your community especially vulnerable to heat waves because of its geography, size or other factors?
- Are public health concerns greater because of the presence of at-risk populations?
- How many cooling centers does your community have for those without AC?
- Are programs in place to finance AC for the poor?
- How effective is your community’s emergency warning and emergency response system in dealing with heat-related illnesses that arise with heat waves?
- What kind of urban heat island challenges might your community face?
- Are community leaders instituting cooling programs such as green roofs or urban forests?
- Learn about the harmful health impacts of urban heat from this EPA heat island effects database. The U.S. government’s National Climate Assessment also has a publication on human health, with a chapter on temperature-related death and illness.
- Review a think-tank toolkit for local governments that helps them adapt to urban heat using approaches like cool pavements, check out California’s guidance on extreme heat adaptation, or explore heat policy plans via Georgetown Climate Center’s Adaptation Clearinghouse.
- View an environment group’s mapping system that charts climate-related health threats like extreme heat. Find extreme heat-tracking indicators from the CDC, such as county-level future projections and historical records, heat stress emergency room visits and hospitalizations, vulnerability trackers, and mortality data.
- Learn how to recognize heat-related health problems from the CDC, which also has a health-focused heat prevention guide. The National Weather Service has one, too.
- Get a range of heat health news and resources from a U.S. government-sponsored Heat Health Information System toolkit.
- See our recent news backgrounder on covering the rise in heat waves.
Plus, dig deeper on the heat wave and health story using annotated heat wave-related resources in the Reporter’s Guide to Climate Adaptation database.
Know of other health-related heat resources we should have in our database?
- Share your resources.
- Share your health-related heat wave stories and story angles.
Posted by A. Adam Glenn on July 27, 2016