The Era of Extreme Heat Is Here: Federal and State Governments Roll Out Strategies to Cope

New plans and programs highlight urgent concern over increasingly frequent and intense hot days

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The Era of Extreme Heat Is Here: Federal and State Governments Roll Out Strategies to Cope
Cars crowding a highway drive beneath a sign with an extreme heat advisory.
A road sign on Interstate 110 in Los Angeles displays advice during a heat wave in September 2022. Extreme heat events across the U.S. have become longer, more intense, and more frequent in recent years.
Patrick T. Fallon AFP via Getty Images

More than two-thirds of Americans were subject to a heat alert at some point last year, part of a growing trend as much of the United States is experiencing hotter, longer, and more frequent heat waves—and more very hot days per year. The problem is likely to get worse, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts there is a 55% chance that 2024 will be hotter than 2023—the hottest year since global records began in 1850.

The warming planet is leading to more frequent and widespread health emergencies related to heat exposure, with abnormally high rates of emergency department visits for heat-related illness in 2023­—nearly 120,000 reported nationwide. While heat affects everyone, studies show it disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations, including communities of color, historically redlined and urban communities, and low-income and unhoused people. These effects on human health are compounded by damage to critical infrastructure, such as buckling roads and runways, and heat-related power outages.

But the federal government and many state governments are taking action, and the summer of 2024 could mark a turning point in the fight to beat the heat.

People walk in a hallway by a table and wall poster with text about keeping communities cool.
Houston residents spend time in the Southwest Multi-Service Center, which served as a cooling center during an extreme heat event on Aug. 4, 2023.
Chen Chen Xinhua via Getty Images

State action

In New Jersey, where the nine hottest summers since 1895 occurred between 2005 and 2023, the state’s Interagency Council on Climate Resilience released a draft Extreme Heat Resilience Action Plan in April. Building on extensive public engagement through webinars, surveys, and an advisory group, the draft plan focuses on community and ecosystem resilience through coordinated government action, studying and raising awareness of extreme heat, and investing in heat-ready projects and infrastructure.

“As extreme heat events become more frequent and intense, we will see impacts to public health, our infrastructure, and our ecosystems,” New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette said in a state press release. “The breadth of actions in the Extreme Heat Resilience Action Plan and the diversity of agencies involved in its development demonstrate that New Jersey stands ready to meet that challenge and build a resilient future for all communities."

Meanwhile, in New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority developed an Extreme Heat Action Plan in coordination with more than 20 state agencies and with local governments, organizations, and stakeholders.  

Moving south, North Carolina—where the Raleigh area experienced its hottest summer on record in 2023—released its Heat Action Plan Toolkit, which provides guidance for local governments to plan for extreme heat events. The strategy includes actions to manage heat in the long term through nature-based solutions such as green roofs and increased tree canopy. The toolkit is a product of a partnership among state, federal, academic, and regional institutions led by the North Carolina Office of Recovery and Resiliency and has already been put to use to develop Chatham County’s Heat Action Plan.

“The Heat Action Plan Toolkit provides concrete steps for health care providers, local government, and community leaders to care for vulnerable populations along with all North Carolinians in times of high heat,” said North Carolina Chief Resilience Officer Amanda Martin.

Out west, Arizona released an Extreme Heat Preparedness Plan in March. This followed an executive order on extreme heat preparedness from Governor Katie Hobbs, who also appointed the state’s first chief heat officer to work with officials across the state to increase heat resilience.

Rows of crops growing on a city rooftop are tended by a group of people.
Green roofs and gardens, such as the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farming company and sustainability center in New York, can help lower temperatures in urban areas.
Ed Jones AFP via Getty Images

Federal resources

The Biden administration has recently taken additional measures to protect communities from extreme heat, providing planning and policy tools through its heat.gov website. These resources are targeted to assist at-risk communities and help state and local governments access funding. The administration is also expected to release a federal heat strategy later in 2024.

Other key federal actions include the following:

  • The Department of Commerce and NOAA announced $4.55 million in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act for two centers of excellence in North Carolina and California to support community heat monitoring and resilience-building actions.
  • NOAA announced a partnership with the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development to map the hottest neighborhoods in 14 communities this summer to identify urban heat islands—information that can help inform future heat resilience efforts.
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new Heat and Health Index, a national tool intended to identify the places most likely to experience negative heat-related health impacts and to help communities prepare for a hotter future.
  • The National Weather Service and CDC developed a HeatRisk tool offering a seven-day extreme heat forecast, providing communities and local officials with advance warning of extreme heat conditions.  

The concerted effort across federal and state governments to raise awareness, develop strategies, and invest in near- and long-term solutions in response to extreme heat represents a significant step in preparing communities and ecosystems for the perils of a warmer climate. While these actions are encouraging, more work is needed to scale and replicate these efforts nationwide to ensure that the U.S. is ready for more sweltering days in the years to come.  

Kristiane Huber works on climate resilience with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. conservation project.

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