TJ8.1 Public Perceptions of the Health Risks of Extreme Heat at the State, County, and Neighborhood Level

Tuesday, 8 January 2019: 1:30 PM
North 224A (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Peter D. Howe, Utah State Univ., Logan, UT; and J. R. Marlon and A. Leiserowitz

Extreme heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in the U.S. Many individuals, however, fail to perceive this risk, which will be exacerbated by climate change. Given that awareness of one's physical and social vulnerability is a critical precursor to preparedness for extreme weather events, understanding Americans’ perceptions of heat risk and their geographic variability is essential for promoting adaptive behaviors during heat waves. Using a large original survey dataset of 9,217 respondents, we model and map public risk perceptions in all 50 U.S. states, 3,142 counties, and 72,429 census tracts. Our model employs individual and socio-environmental predictors of heat risk perceptions and is validated using independent tract-level survey data.

Mapping model estimates reveals the importance of local climate, land cover, and other contextual factors in shaping risk perceptions alongside individual sociodemographic factors. Texas, Nevada, and Hawaii have the highest heat risk perceptions of all states, reflecting the higher baseline heat exposure that residents in warm climates face. However, perceptions of health risks of heat within large metropolitan areas are as variable as they are across states. Risk perceptions are higher in poorer neighborhoods and among minority populations, and lower in wealthier neighborhoods with more white residents, indicating the variation in vulnerability across these populations. Although age is an important factor amplifying vulnerability to heat, places with older populations tended to have lower risk perceptions. Understanding risk perceptions at fine spatial scales can support targeting of communication and education initiatives to where heat adaptation efforts are most needed. Results are available in a new high resolution online mapping tool for communicators and decision makers to understand the geographic diversity in Americans' judgments about the health risks of extreme heat.

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