Killer Heat by Congressional District: New Map and 433 Fact Sheets Show What’s at Stake

July 26, 2019 | 9:26 am
AP Photo/John Locher
Kristy Dahl
Principal Climate Scientist

A new map tool from the Union of Concerned Scientists lets you explore how the frequency and severity of extreme heat are projected to change in your Congressional district in response to global warming. Through the tool, you can download district-specific fact sheets in English or Spanish that show the risks your district faces.

Explore the interactive map

Our new report, Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days, provides the basis for the information included in each fact sheet and shows that failing to reduce our heat-trapping emissions would lead to a staggering expansion of dangerous heat throughout the country.

Few places in the US will be unaffected by increasingly frequent extreme heat conditions. No matter where you live, chances are that extreme heat will steadily reshape your daily life and your community over the coming decades, though by how much is still very much up to us.

To prevent an unrecognizably hot and dangerous future, we need our elected officials to advocate for policies that quickly and steeply reduce our heat-trapping emissions and take actions that will help keep people safe when the heat rises to dangerous levels. As my colleague Rachel Cleetus said in her testimony before Congress, we have the technology and we understand the policy mechanisms. What we need is the political will. This tool and these fact sheets are a way you can help build that political will and momentum.

In this post we’ll explore this tool, highlight the available information for each Congressional district, and learn how to use this information to engage your community, your elected officials, and candidates running for office in your area.

Explore how your Congressional district will be affected by extreme heat

The mapping tool is simple. Clicking on any Congressional district in the contiguous United States will bring up a pop-up window with a link to download a district-specific fact sheet. The first page of each fact sheet showcases district-specific extreme heat projections, both with and without rapid action to reduce heat-trapping emissions. Page two highlights nationwide results from the Killer Heat report and outlines a set of commonsense policies that local, state, and federal decisionmakers could enact to reduce carbon emissions and better prepare for extreme and dangerous heat conditions.

Getting local information about future extreme heat is as easy as finding your location on a map, clicking on your district, and downloading the fact sheet. Fact sheets show what’s at stake for every Congressional district in the contiguous US and are available in both English and Spanish.

While some districts are more exposed to extreme heat than others, nearly every district faces some degree of risk.

For example, in Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, home to Gainesville, the average number of days per year with a heat index above 100°F is projected to go from 21 days historically (1971–2000) to 95 by midcentury. That’s the equivalent of going from three weeks of extreme heat per year to three months.

Iowa’s 3rd Congressional district, encompassing Des Moines, would see fewer extreme heat days than Florida given its location, but still change from an average of six days per year with a heat index above 100°F historically to 35 such days per year by midcentury. Such an increase would require changes to the community’s plans for keeping people safe during extreme heat events.

Each fact sheet has its own unique graphic so you can be sure you’re bringing locally relevant information to your community and elected officials.

And Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional sistrict, home to Tulsa, is projected to have 86 days per year with a heat index above 105°F by late century if we take no action to reduce emissions. But that number could be capped at half of that—43 per year—if we limit future warming to about 3.5°F (2°C).

Fact sheets highlight what the future would look like in your Congressional district if we fail to take action to reduce emissions versus if we take rapid action and limit future warming.

Elected officials and those seeking election need to know the risks of future extreme heat

This tool enables people and policymakers across the country to understand how the choices we make today will affect the future we pass along to the next generation. But what we do with that understanding is critical, particularly when it comes to ensuring that our elected officials fully recognize and acknowledge the risk and have a plan for addressing it.

Here are four ways you can take this information to the elected officials and those seeking election (think congressional representatives, mayors, county commissioners, presidential candidates…) in your district—and ask them what they’re going to do about it:

  1. Reach out on social media. If you’re on Twitter, tweet at the officials or candidates in your district. Include a key fact or two on extreme heat in your district, link to the map or fact sheet, and ask them what their plans are to address the issue. Make sure you include your elected officials’ or candidates’ Twitter handles in your tweet so that they or their staff see it. Consider also including #ActOnClimate, #KillerHeat, or another hashtag of your choice so it’s seen by a broader online community.
  2. If you’re on Facebook, follow your representatives’ or other public figures’ Facebook pages and comment on posts that can be connected to the risks of extreme heat (heat waves occurring in your area, public health risks, etc.), or create your own Facebook post highlighting the risks to your Congressional district and share it.
  3. Attend a forum or event. Ask your representatives or candidates about their plans to address extreme heat and climate change. Cite the facts about how the frequency and intensity of extreme heat is projected to rise in your district and ask how they will support your community in efforts to build resilience to extreme heat. Because this problem will not be limited just to your community, ask about representatives’ plans to advocate for reductions in global warming emissions at the federal level, knowing that nationwide, aggressive action to reduce global emissions could reduce the frequency of extremely hot days by about half compared with a future in which we let emissions continue rising along their current path. You can also email your representatives and candidates directly. The official web sites for most candidates includes ‘Contact Us’ information, which typically provides an email form, address, or other way to write directly to the person you’d like to reach.
  4. Write a letter to the editor for your local paper. Candidates and elected officials monitor local news sources, so writing a letter to the editor (LTE) can be a great way to let them know about the issues that are important to you and your community, including extreme heat. And including specific statistics about how the frequency of extreme heat is projected to rise in the next few decades can help your LTE pack an extra punch and make it more likely to be published. Papers don’t publish every LTE they receive, but your chances are better if you’re writing one in response to an article the paper already published. You do have to be quick in your response—you don’t want days to go by between the original article and your LTE. But the good news is that LTEs are usually required to be 200 words or less, or 1 to 2 paragraphs, so the writing usually goes pretty quickly. Check with your paper about its specific requirements when it comes to submitting LTEs.

We hope that you find this new tool useful and look forward to hearing how you’re using it.

If you’re interested in digging more deeply into extreme heat projections for your city or county, you can check out the other tools we’ve developed, which include an easy-to-use and mobile-friendly “extreme heat widget” that allows you to quickly find results by city or county,  a county-level interactive map with tons of data behind it; and comprehensive spreadsheets filled with local data.

You can also explore in-depth extreme heat data for all 3,109 counties in the contiguous US. Our interactive map showcases county-level information for all heat thresholds, time frames, and scenarios included in the analysis.


About the author

More from Kristy

Kristina Dahl is principal climate scientist for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In her role, she provides scientific direction, strategic thinking, and technical and analytical expertise for the climate team as well as across UCS campaigns and programs. Her research focuses on the impact of climate change, particularly sea level rise and extreme heat, on people and places.