Heat Will Pose a Health Risk for Several Days … and Decades

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NYC OEM

The city's map of cooling centers.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for New York City from noon to 6 p.m. tonight, and it is likely to repeat that messages over the next several days of predicted 90-degree weather. The city has opened its cooling centers (you can find one here) and Con Ed has sent around tips for avoiding outages. The state has fired up its own list of cooling locations and directed people to swimming areas to cool off.

This is not just about comfort, and it’s not just about this week. Severe heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. Last year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reported that excessive heat sent 65,000 people to the hospital each year and killed around 1,300 people every year from ’75 to ’04.

In 2012, NRDC estimated that over the next 88 years, 150,000 Americans could die in the nation’s 40 largest cities from excessive heat caused by global warming. Some of that increase might pass unnoticed: An extra death here, a couple there. But heat can also cause acute health crises like the 1995 Chicago heatwave, which claimed some 700 lives, and the 2003 heat emergency in France, which was blamed for nearly 15,000 deaths.

While rising heat is a potential consequence of climate change, over which New York City has little control, there are choices the city can make in how it plans neighborhoods and applies resources to reduce the effect of urban heat islands. As Fifth Avenue Committee executive director and City Planning Commissioner Michelle de la Uz wrote in a recent CityViews op-ed about the need for the Gowanus rezoning to take steps to mitigate heat risk:

Steps include increasing vegetation by 20 percent to reduce air temperatures, support storm water retention, and help mitigate flooding. Vines could be added to the external walls of existing buildings to reduce outside temperatures and cool the buildings themselves. New buildings should use green infrastructure to reduce, rather than contribute to the UHI effect, by installing green roofs and double- or triple-pane windows; creating breezeways to provide ventilation and encourage airflow; and redirecting and reusing solar heat, which, if allowed to be wasted, can contribute to higher temperatures.

In the meantime, if the forecast has you sweating and you’re without an AC (or feel guilty using one because of the risk of power-outages), here are some tips for how to survive this simmering stretch.

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