LIVE: New Englanders at Risk As Heat Index Climbs, Brown Professor Helps Implement NWS Policy Change

Friday, May 12, 2017


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Gregory Wellenius

Professor Gregory Wellenius, from Brown University’s School of Public Health recently published a study in Environmental Research that helped changed the National Weather Service policy on issuing heat advisories and heat warnings in New England. 

Through their research, Wellenius and said they found more people going to the emergency room and dying on days that had a heat index below 100 degrees. 

“Even on days where we don’t have a heat advisory or heat warning, we still see this extra risk related to heat,” Wellenius says, “we didn’t see all of the effects on the same day. We’re seeing excess risks on next days.”

That provides information for policy makers, Wellenius says, “it’s not that we just need to warn people and teach people about the risks on the day of, but the day or two after that.” 

The professor says this message is important to communicate to the public because it continues to get hotter more often and in recent years and the number of really high heat days has increased dramatically.  

The wew research shows that days with a heat index of 95 have resulted in 7.5% more heat-related emergency department visits and 5.1% more heat-related deaths over the following week than days with a heat index of 75. 

The health impact of all days with a heat index of at least 95 degrees among the 2.7 million residents in the study area was 784 additional emergency department visits per year and 22 more deaths per year due to heat.

The data comes from the study titled “Heat-related morbidity and mortality in New England: Evidence for local policy.”

“This hasn’t been looked at in New England specifically, and New England has a very different set of characteristics and population than some other parts of the country. We provided local evidence to local policy makers, and they have acted to improve the heat warning system in the area,” said Wellenius. 

The findings of this research have helped lower the National Weather Service’s threshold for heat warnings. 

“The old threshold of 100 to 104 degrees Farenheit for two or more consecutive hours has been lowered to 95 to 99 degrees Farenheit occurring for two or more consecutive days, or any duration of heat index 100 to 104 degrees Farenheit,” the statement said the National Weather Service in a statement. 

Conducting the Study 

To conduct the study, the research team focused on the populations living within 10 miles of 14 National Weather Service stations in New Hampshire and Maine and on the entirety of Rhode Island. Looking at data spanning the period 2000 to 2010, they combined May-to-September weather information from each station with health, death and demographic data from state health departments.

Statistically controlling for possible confounders such as day of the week and federal holidays, the researchers calculated the association between daily heat index and the number of heat-related emergency visits and deaths, as designated in state administrative records.

Wellenius added that he hopes the study and the National Weather Service policy change will help New Englanders understand the health risks of heat and motivate them to take steps to protect themselves and others.


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