This July saw some of the hottest global temperatures ever recorded – we hope you’re staying cool and safe out there, DC! These sweltering temperatures are in part due to El Niño, a cyclical weather pattern that causes warmer global air temperatures. Climate change is another major and long-term driver of extreme heat – greenhouse gas emissions produced from a variety of human activities act like an insulating blanket, trapping heat from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. The District also experiences the urban heat island (UHI) effect, when heat from the sun, absorbed and retained by paved surfaces and roofs, and heat released from machines such as air conditioners and cars, create a heat “island” that is significantly warmer than surrounding suburban or rural areas.
More severe and numerous extreme heat days are expected to increase in the coming decades. Extreme heat is not only uncomfortable, but poses serious health risks, especially for vulnerable populations, deteriorates infrastructure, and strains essential services. So, what are District agencies doing to help keep residents cool from extreme heat now and in the future?
In 2022, the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) released the District’s extreme heat adaptation strategy, Keep Cool DC, available in seven languages. It helps guide the District’s efforts to make neighborhoods more resilient to extreme heat and outlines solutions such as increasing access to cool spaces, designing buildings to help decrease the UHI effect, expanding the tree canopy, improving cooling centers, educating residents on heat risks, and ensuring clean and reliable power.
A couple actions you can do right now are 1) know where your nearest cooling center is using this interactive map and 2) spread the word that DOEE’s RiverSmart Homes program plants shade trees for residents for free. Prepare yourself and your family further by learning more about steps you can take to keep cool, checking out the District’s Heat Emergency Plan, and signing up for Alert DC to receive notifications about heat emergencies.