New website looks to prevent deaths from worsening heat
WASHINGTON — The federal government hopes a new website can help people and local governments beat the increasingly deadly heat of an ever-warming world.
Days after nearly half the country — 154.6 million people — sweated through a blistering heat wave, which hasn’t quite finished out West, the Biden administration Tuesday unveiled heat. gov, which includes maps, forecasts and health advice.
The government can’t lower temperatures in the short-term, but it can shrink heat’s death toll, officials said.
“July 2021 was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth and summers are getting hotter and deadlier,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Rick Spinrad. “The annual average temperature of the contiguous U.S. has already warmed over the past few decades and is projected to rise by 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.”
The new website is aimed both at local planners to help them decide whether it is too hot for road work, at farmers for planting and harvesting advice, and even “a mom trying to decide this summer: Is it safe for your kids to play outside or to go to summer camp?” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Tuesday.
Pat Breysse, director of environmental health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the predictions the new website offers can help authorities plan for extreme heat in advance and protect people who are most at risk, by setting up cooling centers and providing water, for example.
“There’s a host of things that we can do with this advance warning from the data that NOAA provides us, particularly from a health standpoint,” Breysse said.
He pointed to earlier efforts by Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to change weather service heat warnings to make them more effective for New England residents.
The new website could be put to use immediately as record-breaking temperatures are forecast for Spokane, Washington, and Boise, Idaho — heat in the low to mid-100s, Spinrad said.
The website follows other Biden administration action on heat, including financial aid to help on air conditioning for low-income residents, grants to build new cooling centers, upcoming rules for workers outside in the heat and help for cities to cool urban heat islands with more tree cover.
Calling climate change “an emergency,” but stopping short of invoking emergency measures, President Biden last week promised more action to fight global warming.
Outside experts said the multiagency website and action are overdue.
“This is an important step for elevating the risks of heat,” said University of Georgia meteorology professor Marshall Shepherd, past president of the American Meteorological Society. “For too long, heat has been one of the deadliest weather hazards, but has languished from an urgency standpoint.”