Jul 20, 2022 - Energy & Environment

How cities are tackling extreme heat

Illustration of a skull and crossbones sun in the sky

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More than 100 million Americans are under heat warnings and advisories, with temperatures of up to 110°F, or possibly higher, hitting much of the U.S. on Wednesday.

Driving the news: From the Southern Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast, the heat is pushing cities to take action to protect residents from sweltering and often life-threatening conditions.

In Austin, Texas, Wednesday marks the 40th triple-digit day of the year. Buses now act as mobile chilling stations, ferrying people to the city's cooling centers.

  • "We're basically staying indoors from 10am to 6pm, venturing out only to make our way to our local public pool before closing time," Axios' Asher Price says.
  • Temperatures in the Brazos Valley will reach near 106°F by Wednesday afternoon, prompting an excessive heat warning by the National Weather Service. Closer to the Houston metro, temperatures will top out near 100°F with heat index values near 109 degrees.

Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced on Twitter that all eight branches of the Salt Lake City Public Library would be opening as cool zones.

  • The National Weather Service forecast shows highs of 95-98°F through Friday. On Sunday, Salt Lake City tied its all-time high summer temperature as thermometers reached 107°F.

Phoenix is trying to save people from bad decision making by shutting down some of its most popular hiking trails during excessive heat warnings.

  • Meanwhile: Local governments have created a heat relief network with more than 150 cooling centers and hydration centers at city, nonprofit and church buildings across metro Phoenix.
  • The Arizona Corporation Commission does not allow regulated utility companies to disconnect delinquent customers from June 1- October 15, or when the temperature exceeds 95°F.

In Denver, free cooling stations were opened across the city this week as temperatures surpassed 100°F earlier this week.

  • The city offered its recreation centers to the public for free and encouraged residents to beat the heat at its public libraries.

People in Richmond, Virgina tell Axios they plan to avoid the heat by staying indoors “like a consumptive Victorian wife,” says local podcaster Johnathan Blade.

  • The city has opened up multiple cooling centers, in public libraries and local social services buildings.
  • Its free public pools and splash pads will be open all weekend, and some residents say they'll also head to the James River to try to keep cool. The water temperature is currently a balmy 83-85°F, according to James River Watch.

Computer model projections show the heat in the U.S. is likely to migrate westward over time, with the potential for a significant heat wave to envelop much of the West, including California, Oregon and Washington, toward the end of July and into August, per Axios' Andrew Freedman.

Remember: Extreme heat is a public health threat so be sure to recognize the signs of heat-related illnesses and stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day.

Andrew Freedman, Ross Terrell, Austin Price, Karri Peifer, Jay Jordan, Jessica Boehm, and Alayna Alvarez contributed to this report.

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