East Coast Heat Won’t Let Up as Mayors Work to Save Lives

Image: Colton Duke

The month of July was a scorcher along the Eastern Seaboard. Throughout the month, heat advisories and excessive heat warnings were in effect along the I-95 corridor, and in Washington D.C., July saw the most 90-degree days of any month on record and was the first month to never fall below 71 degrees since record-keeping began in 1871, according to the Washington Post. In fact, the heat and humidity were so extreme in D.C. that the city was forced to shut down COVID-19 testing centers due to safety concerns.

Unfortunately for residents, there’s no cool down in the immediate future. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has continued to warm New Yorkers to stay safe in the face of dangerous heat conditions.

Why This Matters: Extreme heat is reshaping our cities. For instance, though New York City was long considered a humid continental climate, some meteorologists say the city is now being considered a humid subtropical climate zone.

Most notably, this has implications for how cities must address the health impacts of extreme heat, which is the most dangerous of all extreme weather events. Philadelphia and New York began the work early to raise public awareness as well as strengthen the city response to extreme heat and as a result, have not incurred any heat-related deaths this year. A vital metric as heat will only make COVID racial disparities worse.

Go Deeper: Take a look at how the City of New York is working to combat extreme heat, through energy affordability as well as access to air conditioning. Jainey Bavishi, who directs the NYC Mayor’s Office of Resiliency explained how America’s largest city is helping citizens cope with extreme heat in our recent virtual panel in partnership with Third Way and the University of Michigan:

That’s Not All: The summer heatwaves aren’t limited to land, a marine heatwave off the Eastern coast has brought warm water fish species further north and experts fear it may be supercharging hurricane season. As the Washington Post explained,

 Due to human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, marine heat waves have increased dramatically in frequency, size and severity in recent decades. They’ve altered fisheries and killed seabirds in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, and damaged or killed parts of the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage site.

Protecting Vulnerable People: PBS’s web series, Hot Mess spelled out the specific dangers that extreme heat poses to low-income communities. Long term exposure to heat can have devastating effects on human health, and low-income and minority neighborhoods bear the brunt of these health outcomes.

That’s why it’s important that lawmakers work to develop long term strategies to protect these vulnerable populations from heat especially as climate change is causing fading winters and longer, hotter summers. As the Connecticut Mirror wrote, advocates say that these long term strategies should prioritize “federal and state spending for plans to mitigate extreme heat; strengthening the health care system and expanding telemedicine; improving air quality and reducing fossil fuel consumption. They also recommend expanding green spaces, painting roofs white and creating community outreach programs for vulnerable populations.”

It was a crucial provision that the recent CARES Act, allocated $900 million in grants from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to states to support home energy assistance for low-income households affected by the coronavirus.

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