See how heat-related illness spiked in the US this summer

A sign gives direction to a cooling center in Portland, Oregon, during another heatwave on August 14th, 2021. | Photo by MICHAEL HANSON / AFP via Getty Images

Record heat is leading to more emergency room visits in the US, according to national tracking tools.

July was the hottest month on record for the planet, with North American heatwaves that would have been ‘virtually impossible’ without climate change, a recent study says. That led to a 12 percent increase in emergency medical service responses to heat-related illness between July 13 and August 11, according to a new federal dashboard. But national numbers only give part of the picture.

Zooming in shows how health risks ballooned in the hardest-hit regions. The situation has been especially bad this week in the Pacific Northwest. The number of emergency department (ED) visits associated with heat-related illness was 16 times higher on Monday (the most recent data available) than it was a week before. That’s 665 cases of heat-related illness this week compared to 41 on the same day last week and 103 on the same day last year, according to another data portal from the CDC. The portal shows the rate of heat-related cases per 100,000 ED visits by region.

Daily high temperatures broke records across parts of Washington and Oregon on Monday, August 14th. Officials warned residents to find shelter at cooling centers or other places with air conditioning as temperatures soared into the triple digits in some areas.

Temperatures this week reached up to 23 degrees above average along the Pacific Northwest coast that’s more notorious for its cool, damp climate. Heat can be especially dangerous in communities unaccustomed to it. They’re facing more sweltering summers because of climate change.

“Heat is the most lethal of all types of extreme weather and heat exposure is worsening with increasing global warming. But existing data on heat-related deaths don’t shed light on where people actually fall ill. This new dashboard makes it possible to see where the needs are greatest, plan for the future, and save lives,” acting director of the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity John Balbus said in a press release when the Department of Health and Human Services and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched their new tracking tool last week.

That online dashboard is supposed to help public health officials improve outreach and access to health services in communities that need it the most. It’ll be updated every Monday and shows data gathered from emergency medical service (EMS) responses to 911 calls.

The CDC’s older web tool, meanwhile, shows a temperature map of the continental US, along with the number of heat-related ER visits in each region. There’s also a search bar that allows users to plug in a specific zip code or county.

A brutal heatwave in the Pacific Northwest in 2021 led to 1,038 heat-related emergency department visits in the region during a single day that year. Many homes at the time weren’t equipped with air conditioning to help people cope during what wound up being North America’s most extreme summer heatwave. But intensifying heat spells are becoming more frequent, and high temperatures in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies are forecast to persist through Thursday.

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