As the Pacific Northwest gears up for searing temperatures for the second year in a row, the Biden administration is rolling out a site to help residents there and across the country prepare for a hotter, more dangerous future.
The site, Heat.gov, is set up to “provide the public and decision-makers with clear, timely and science-based information to understand and reduce the health risks of extreme heat,” according to a press release. With climate change making heat waves more common and intense, there's never been a more crucial time to share information that can help decision-makers put together plans to keep people safe.
The website has been in the works at least since the start of the Biden administration, according to Rick Spinrad, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It emerged as one of the priorities of the president’s National Climate Task Force and its Interagency Working Group on Extreme Heat.
Heat.gov is geared toward a wide range of decision-makers, from companies to local governments to individuals, Spinrad told Protocol, “whether it's a mom trying to decide whether it's safe for kids to play outside, or a construction foreman trying to decide if it's OK for their workers to be out on the job or a public works manager trying to figure out when road repairs can be undertaken.”
The data included is open access, which is designed to help community-level decision-makers integrate it into their own work. The website was created by the National Integrated Heat Health Information System, which is a NOAA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collaboration aimed at heat resilience.
Heat.gov prominently features a counter of how many people in the U.S. are living under a heat warning on any given day (more than 39 million at the time of the site’s launch). It serves as a repository for existing data from across multiple agencies but also features new resources. For instance, the agencies created a heat equity mapper using NIHHIS data on urban heat islands, which also launched Tuesday and seeks to answer the question of whether certain parts of a city get hotter than others.
Heat causes roughly 700 deaths per year in the U.S., making it the deadliest form of extreme weather. And it's only going to worsen with climate change. This summer — which has already seen heat waves roil every region of the U.S. — could easily be the coolest for the rest of our lifetimes, Spinrad said.
The impacts of extreme heat accrue disproportionately in Native American and Black communities, according to the CDC. Indeed, research has shown that neighborhoods subject to redlining — a racist zoning practice that discriminates against communities of colors — are up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than their non-redlined counterparts. Those living in the urban core or in very rural environments are also more impacted by hot weather. Given that the Biden administration wants 40% of all federal funds to benefit communities on the front lines of environmental justice, the heat equity mapper could provide a new avenue to ensure those targets are met when it comes to keeping places cool.
Other agencies that have partnered in the project also include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Veterans Administration and the National Park Service. Heat.gov relies on the geographic information systems provider Esri for the site’s underlying technology.
While the site today is a fairly standard government site, Spinrad said he could imagine “added value service providers” using Heat.gov’s data to create an app or other specialized resource for heat data. This is reminiscent of how companies like AccuWeather have used and built upon NOAA’s fundamental weather forecast in the past.