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Feds hope new website can prevent deaths from being made worse by heat


WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government hopes a new website can help people and local governments beat the increasingly deadly heat of a warming world.

Days after nearly half the country (154.6 million people) sweated through a scorching heat wave, which for the West is not yet over, the Biden Administration on Tuesday unveiled heat.gov, which includes maps, forecasts and health tips. The government cannot lower temperatures in the short term, but it can reduce the number of heat deaths, 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 United States has already warmed in recent decades and is projected to rise 5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 to 5 degrees Celsius) by the end of this century.”

But officials said that while heat is the biggest climate killer and warming is getting worse, deaths can still be prevented. That is the purpose of the website.

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“We don’t have to accept” heat deaths, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Tuesday. “This need not be so”.

The new website is aimed both at local planners to help them decide if it’s too hot for road work, at farmers for advice on planting and harvesting, and even “a mom trying to decide this summer.” : Is it safe for your children to play outside? or to go to a summer camp? Raymond said.

Pat Breysse, director of environmental health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the predictions offered by the new website can help authorities plan ahead for extreme heat and protect people who are at higher risk. risk, setting up cooling centers and providing water, for example.

“There are a lot of things that we can do with this advance warning from the data that NOAA provides us, particularly from a health standpoint,” Breysse said. She pointed to previous efforts by Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont to change weather service heat warnings to be more effective for New England residents.

The new website could be put to use immediately because record temperatures are forecast for Spokane, Washington, and Boise, Idaho: heat between 100 and 100 degrees Celsius, Spinrad said.

Website tracks other Biden Administration action on heat, including financial aid to help with air conditioning for low-income residents, grants to build new cooling centers, upcoming rules for outdoor workers in the heat and help cities 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 combat global warming.

Outside experts said the various agencies’ website and action are behind schedule.

“This is an important step in elevating heat risks,” said Marshall Shepherd, a professor of meteorology at the University of Georgia and former president of the American Meteorological Society. “For too long, heat has been one of the deadliest weather hazards, but it has languished from an urgency standpoint,” ignored by the public, media and decision-makers. Shepherd said people run indoors when threatened by lightning or a tornado, but do the same when the heat index is 100 or higher.

North Carolina State Climatologist Kathie Dello said, “Extreme heat is one of our biggest challenges as a county and I’m glad to see interagency cooperation.”

It’s important for the website to show that heat isn’t just a problem today “but a problem in the future,” Dello said.

Given warming trends, this summer with its widespread heat waves “will probably be one of the coolest summers of the rest of our lifetimes,” Raimondo said. “That’s pretty scary stuff.”

Wildeman reported from Hartford, Connecticut.

Follow AP climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter at @borenbears

and Mary Katherine Wildeman at @mkwildeman

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