NATIONAL NEWS

Cities have long made plans for extreme heat. Are they enough in a warming world?

Jul 8, 2023, 10:19 PM

FILE - Kayak and canoe outfitter Jessie Fuentes walks along the Rio Grande under a warm sun Thursda...

FILE - Kayak and canoe outfitter Jessie Fuentes walks along the Rio Grande under a warm sun Thursday, July 6, 2023. As the heat breaks records, weakening and sickening people, it’s worth remembering that dire heat waves have inspired effective efforts to prevent heat illness. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — Natural disasters can be dramatic — barreling hurricanes, building-toppling tornadoes — but heat is more deadly.

Chicago learned that the hard way in 1995.

That July, a weeklong heat wave that hit 106 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) killed more than 700 people. Most of the deaths occurred in poor and majority Black neighborhoods, where many elderly or isolated people suffered without proper ventilation or air conditioning. Power outages from an overwhelmed grid made it all worse.

Initially slow to react, Chicago has since developed emergency heat response plans that include a massive push to alert the public and then connect the most vulnerable to the help they may need. Other cities like Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix now have “chief heat officers” to coordinate planning and response for dangerous heat. Around the world, cities and countries have adopted similar measures.

But experts warn those steps might not be enough in a world that is seeing heat records consistently shatter and with continuing inequality in who is most vulnerable.

“I don’t know a single city that is truly prepared for the worst-case scenario that some climate scientists fear,” said Eric Klinenberg, a professor of social sciences at New York University who wrote a book about the Chicago heat wave.

Heat preparedness has generally improved over the years as forecasting has become more accurate, and as meteorologists, journalists and government officials have focused on spreading the word of upcoming danger. Chicago, for example, has expanded its emergency text and email notification system and identified its most vulnerable residents for outreach.

But what works in one city might not be as effective in another. That’s because each has its own unique architecture, transportation, layout and inequities, said Bharat Venkat, an associate professor at UCLA who directs the university’s Heat Lab, aimed at tackling what he calls “thermal inequality.”

Venkat thinks cities should address inequality by investing in labor rights, sustainable development and more. That may sound expensive — who pays, for instance, when a city tries to improve conditions for workers in blistering food trucks? — but Venkat thinks doing nothing will ultimately cost more.

“The status quo is actually deeply expensive,” he said. “We just don’t do the math.”

France launched a heat watch warning system after an extended heat wave in 2003 was estimated to have caused 15,000 deaths — many of them older people in city apartments and homes without air conditioning. The system includes public announcements urging people to hydrate. Just last month, Germany launched a new campaign against heatwave deaths that it said was inspired by France’s experience.

In India, a powerful heat wave in 2010 with temperatures over 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius) led to the deaths of over 1,300 people in the city of Ahmedabad. City officials now have a heat action plan to improve awareness in the local population and health care staff. Another simple initiative: Painting roofs white to reflect the blazing sun.

Ladd Keith, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, cited Baltimore’s Code Red Extreme Heat alerts as an example of a well-designed alert system. The alerts go out when the forecast calls for a heat index of 105 Fahrenheit or higher, and sets in motion things like more social services in communities most vulnerable to heat risks.

He lauded the heat officers in cities like Los Angeles, Miami and Phoenix, but said there are “still over 19,000 cities and towns without them.”

Inkyu Han, an environmental health scientist at Temple University in Philadelphia, noted that cities are still struggling to get aids such as cooling centers and subsidized air conditioning into poorer neighborhoods. He said more can be done, too, with simple and sustainable solutions such as improving tree canopy.

“Notably, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color in Philadelphia often lack street trees and green spaces,” Han said.

In Providence, Rhode Island, the Atlantic Ocean typically moderates temperatures but the region can still get heat waves. Kate Moretti, an emergency room physician, said the city’s hospitals see more patients when the heat strikes — with increases in illnesses that may not be obviously related to heat, like heart attacks, kidney failure and mental health problems.

“We definitely notice that it puts a strain on the system,” Moretti said. Older people, people who work outdoors, people with disabilities and people who are homeless make up a big share of those admissions, she said.

Miami — considered a ground zero for the climate change threat due to its vulnerability to sea level rise, flooding, hurricanes and extreme heat — appointed its heat officer two years ago to develop strategies to keep people safe from the heat.

Robin Bachin, an associate professor of civic and community engagement at the University of Miami, noted that the federal government has laws to protect people in cold climates from having their heat shut off in dangerous conditions, but doesn’t have something similar for cooling.

“For people in apartments that are not publicly subsidized, there is no requirement for landlords to provide air conditioning,” Bachin said. “That’s incredibly dangerous to particularly our local low-income population, let alone people who are unhoused or are outdoor workers.”

Klinenberg said that the United States has so far gotten lucky with the duration of most heat waves, but that electrical grids vulnerable to high demand in some regions, along with persistent social inequities, could spell serious trouble in the coming decades.

That’s partly because the underlying social problems that make heat events so deadly are only getting worse, Klinenberg said. Chicago’s 1995 deaths were clustered not only in poor and segregated neighborhoods, but also specifically within what he calls “depleted” neighborhoods, places where it’s harder for people to gather together and where social connections have been worn thin. Empty lots, abandoned restaurants and poorly maintained parks mean that people are less likely to check up on each other.

Noboru Nakamura, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Chicago who specializes in extreme weather events, said he thinks Chicago has made plenty of smart changes by implementing heat emergency plans, routine wellness checks and cooling centers.

But he too cited inequality as a difficult challenge.

“A systemic problem of a resource inequity is something that you can’t really get rid of overnight. And we still have the same issue that we had back then today,” Nakamura said. “So that aspect still is a big, big, big, big unsolved problem.”

___

O’Malley reported from Philadelphia.

___

Follow Melina Walling on Twitter @MelinaWalling.

___

Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

National News

Associated Press

Stock market today: World shares track Wall Street’s slump after Fed says rates may stay high in ’24

World shares have declined, echoing a slump on Wall Street after the Federal Reserve said it may not cut interest rates next year by as much as it earlier thought. Benchmarks fell by 1% or more in Paris, Tokyo, Sydney and Hong Kong. U.S. futures slipped and oil prices also were lower. On Wednesday, the […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Deja Taylor arrives at federal court, June 12, 2023, in Virginia Beach, Va. Taylor, the moth...

Associated Press

Mother of 6-year-old boy who shot his teacher in Virginia could be jailed for failing drug tests

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — The mother of a 6-year-old who shot his teacher in Virginia could be jailed Thursday for failing drug tests while awaiting sentencing on federal weapons charges that she used marijuana while possessing a firearm. A bond revocation hearing is set in federal court in Newport News for Deja Taylor. Her […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Anthony Sanchez, right, is escorted into a Cleveland County courtroom for a preliminary hear...

Associated Press

Man set to be executed for 1996 slaying of University of Oklahoma dance student

McALESTER, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma is set to execute an inmate Thursday morning for the 1996 slaying of a University of Oklahoma dance student, a case that went unsolved for years until DNA from the crime scene matched a man serving time for burglary. Anthony Sanchez, 44, is scheduled to receive a three-drug injection at […]

3 hours ago

A Brightline train approaches the Fort Lauderdale station on Friday, Sept. 8, 2023, in Fort Lauderd...

Associated Press

First private US passenger rail line in 100 years is about to link Miami and Orlando at high speed

MIAMI (AP) — The first big test of whether privately owned high-speed passenger train service can prosper in the United States will launch Friday when Florida’s Brightline begins running trains between Miami and Orlando, reaching speeds of 125 mph (200 kph). It’s a $5 billion bet Brightline’s owner, Fortress Investment Group, is making, believing that […]

4 hours ago

The entrance to the Las Vegas Review-Journal campus is shown in Las Vegas, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023...

Associated Press

Outdated headline sparks vicious online hate campaign directed at Las Vegas newspaper

NEW YORK (AP) — A Las Vegas newspaper is being viciously attacked online for its coverage of an alleged murder of a retired police chief, either because of a misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt to mislead. The “firehose of hatred” has led the Las Vegas Review-Journal to sift through email directed at one of its […]

4 hours ago

Disbarred attorney Alex Murdaugh arrives in court in Beaufort, S.C. Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023. Murda...

Associated Press

Alex Murdaugh plans to do something he hasn’t yet done in court — plead guilty

Convicted murderer Alex Murdaugh is expected to step before a judge Thursday and do something he hasn’t done in the two years since his life of privilege and power started to unravel: plead guilty to a crime. Murdaugh will admit in federal court that he committed 22 counts of financial fraud and money laundering, his […]

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Cities have long made plans for extreme heat. Are they enough in a warming world?