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newsrel -- Longer, hotter heat waves in store for California

Posted: 26 Aug 2011 11:26:39
State’s aging population raises projected heat-related deaths. 

Release #:11-38

ARB PIO: (916) 322-2990

Dimitri Stanich


Longer, hotter heat waves in store for California

State’s aging population raises projected heat-related deaths

SACRAMENTO - California can expect more frequent and more
dangerous heat waves in the coming decades, the result of global
warming and the state’s aging population, according to a new
climate-modeling study commissioned by the California Air
Resources Board.

Researchers using a new, more comprehensive weather-modeling
method found that the incidence of prolonged hot spells – those
lasting 10 or more days – could rise by a factor of two to ten by
the 2090s, depending on the region.

“Along with reducing our climate-warming emissions, we need to
prepare for longer and hotter heat waves,” Board Chairman Mary
Nichols said. “Raising public awareness of the risks and having
safety nets such as community cooling centers can greatly reduce
those risks.

Currently, an average of about 500 elderly people die from
excessive heat each year in the nine major urban areas studied:
Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland, Santa Ana, Riverside, Sacramento,
San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose. By the 2090s, the death
toll within this population group could rise more than nine-fold
– to a range of roughly 4,700 to 8,800 – depending on the climate
scenario, according to the study.

A warmer climate plays a role, but as much as 75 percent of the
projected increase in potential heat-related mortality is
attributed to demographics. The elderly are particularly
vulnerable to extreme heat, and the proportion of Californians 65
and older is expected to continue growing at unprecedented rates
well into the 21st century.

Scott Sheridan, a Kent State University geographer who led the
study, said the analysis is the first to include demographic
factors in predicting changes in California’s heat-related
deaths. Also, the projections are based on stronger climate
modeling techniques than those he used in a 2006 preliminary
analysis for the ARB. The latest model, for example, accounts for
a fuller suite of weather conditions that affect how the human
body responds to heat -- cloud cover, dew point, wind speed,
among other variables – making it a better predictor of potential
heat-related deaths.

The researchers recommend that California take preventative
actions, such as setting up extreme heat warning system at
weather forecast stations statewide and a heat-health task force
in every major city to coordinate and update safety plans.

The study is available at:

ARB's mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare,
and ecological resources through effective reduction of air
pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the
economy. The ARB oversees all air pollution control efforts in
California to attain and maintain health based air quality


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