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With more record-breaking heat likely ahead, how is CT preparing?

A man dunks his head to cool off in Barton Creek Pool on June 27, 2023 in Austin, Texas. A dangerous and prolonged heat wave blanketed large parts of the southern US on Tuesday, buckling highways and forcing people into air-conditioned shelters as temperatures soared past 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius). Excessive heat warnings were in place from Arizona in the southwest all the way to Alabama in the southeast, with south and central Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley worst hit, the National Weather Service said.
Suzanne Cordeiro
/
AFP via Getty Images
A man dunks his head to cool off in Barton Creek Pool on June 27, 2023 in Austin, Texas. As a dangerous and prolonged heat wave blanketed large parts of the southern US, buckling highways and forcing people into air-conditioned shelters as temperatures soared past 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius). Excessive heat warnings were in place from Arizona in the southwest all the way to Alabama in the southeast, with south and central Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley worst hit, the National Weather Service said.

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As dangerous record temperatures driven by climate change and El Niño continue to hit Texas, local health experts look ahead to combating heat poised to reach Connecticut this summer.

New England has already seen record-breaking temperatures this year, and the region will likely see above-average temperatures in July and through the fall, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Staying hydrated, wearing loose clothing, and staying in spaces with air conditioning is key on extremely hot days, said Manisha Juthani, commissioner of the state Department of Public Health.

Vulnerable groups such as older adults, infants and children, individuals with chronic health issues, low income people, outdoor workers and pets are at risk of heat-related illness. Juthani suggested checking on individuals who might need aid.

“Thinking of somebody, in a vulnerable moment like this – you may think of them and think, ‘Well, maybe they need their driveway shoveled in the wintertime.’ But in the summertime, being somewhere cool is going to be equally important,” Juthani said.

In Connecticut, cooling centers can offer people aid in the short term. But these facilities don’t operate year-round, and are only “activated” during extreme heat waves.

Cooling centers are held at locations around the state from libraries or churches. Available locations are posted during hot weather events on the United Way of Connecticut’s website.

Last summer, such centers were activated for parts of July and August, according to the United Way. At most, 80 centers were active around the state during a hot weather event last year.

In cities, cooling centers can be key relief spots for populations most impacted by heat waves.

That’s because urban areas experience some of the most intense temperatures during extreme heat. Yale University’s 2020 report on Climate Change and Health in Connecticut said the density of buildings and roads, and fewer trees and greenery all play a role in the urban “heat island” effect.

Laura Bozzi is the director of programs with Yale’s Center on Climate Change and Health. She said historically moderate summer temperatures continuing to rise in the region impacts people of all ages.

“There's also some people that are more vulnerable than others because of where they live,” Bozzi said. “The quality of their housing, whether there are trees nearby, whether they have preexisting conditions, whether they're mobile or not.”

She emphasized that solutions such as home insulation are essential for safety on days with bad heat and poor air quality, which often happen at the same time.

DPH Commissioner Juthani said her department is using a Building Resilience Against Climate Effects (BRACE) grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to work with towns to streamline how people can get out of the heat.

“The intervention should then reduce exposure to the hazards of extreme temperature and elevated ozone levels,” Juthani said. “It'll do so by building on this coordinated planning and response functions within a municipality.”

The program is still in its planning stages, Juthani said, but the pilot program is slated to begin in one municipality next spring. That location is in the process of being selected.

Bozzi echoed that a focus on future solutions combating extreme heat is key.

“Maybe it's manageable now,” she said. “But we know what's coming forward, and what can we put into place – what ‘saplings’ can we plant now — that are going to be ‘shade trees’ in the future?”

As Connecticut Public's state government reporter, Michayla Savitt focuses on how policy decisions directly impact the state’s communities and livelihoods. Michayla has been with Connecticut Public since February 2022, and before that she was a producer and host for audio news outlets around New York state. When not on deadline, Michayla is probably outside with her rescue dog, Elphie. Thoughts? Jokes? Tips? Email msavitt@ctpublic.org.
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