Timely, Critical Climate Resource from the HHS

As Europe bakes under extreme heat, and the Biden Administration considers declaring a national climate emergency to circumvent an obstructionist Senate, we thought we’d bring attention to an incredibly timely and useful resource now available to all from the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Called the Climate and Health Outlook, it is published monthly and provides detailed data on what people might expect from the climate across the country—distilled down to the county level. In the July issue, which has five packed pages with illustrations and graphics, there are regional health forecasts for heat, wildfire, drought and hurricanes with helpful data such as an expected 26 counties in Colorado, 23 in Arizona, 15 in New Mexico, 13 in Nevada and 10 in California that will have more than five “heat exceedance” days in July.

Some more beneficial information for those who like to know what’s in store, and might want to, say, conserve water more diligently: “A dry climatology precludes any prospects for drought improvements, except across the lower Four Corners region when an anticipated robust Monsoon season may yield some drought improvements. Above normal wildland fire potential projected for much of northern California and Nevada.”

Interestingly, the Outlook predicted a below normal hurricane season in Hawaii, despite waves cresting over a two-story condominium in Hawaii during mid-July tropical storm Darby. Climate change is often hard to remain on top of as it seems to be evolving logarithmically.

The Outlook’s FEMA page provides predictions of upcoming risks of climate hazards across the country via the National Risk Index. Available risks to explore include wildfire, avalanche, tsunami, riverine flooding and many more. For July, among risk factors for the 291 counties in 16 states with extremely high, relatively high or relatively moderate risks for hurricanes, 17% house a high number of older adults, 53% have a high number of people with no health insurance, 81% have a high number of Black persons, and 53% have a high number of people living in poverty.

What follows that plethora of statistics is a hefty list of useful resources to reduce health risks associated with hurricanes.

The next page details via map the exact areas that will experience the highest heat, how that heat can specifically affect one’s health and another helpful list of who in how many counties are at risk. For instance, out of the 467 counties at risk of experiencing extreme heat, 23% house a high number of folks older than age 65; 45% have high rates of those with no health insurance, 21% have higher numbers of people with diabetes, and 36% have a high number of people living without adequate tree cover.

On the final July Outlook page is a rundown comparing this July to the past three years. It’s a tad unsettling as the graphic compares the rate of heat-related illness per 100,000 ER visits from May to June in 2022 versus the years 2019–21. In Region 6 (AR, LA, NM, OK, TX) there is a rate of 325 per 100,000 ER visits compared to 165 in 2019–21.

The last map shows a prediction of how hot it will be and where across the next three months: It’s not looking good for OK, KS, NE, IA, TN and KY. But those states won’t be suffering alone, as “many regions may expect a warmer 90-day average temperature.”

As we all by now know older adults are at significant increased risk of heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, heat edema, heat syncope, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, anyone working closely with older adults might be wise to check in on the Climate and Health Outlook site prior to the start of each upcoming month. It’s a worthy resource that should awaken all readers to the serious threats we now face from climate change.

Interested in learning more about climate change and aging? Make sure to read the Summer 2022 issue of Generations Journal on Aging and the Climate Crisis.