extreme weather

California Might Start Ranking Heat Waves

Los Angeles, California, as seen during a triple-digit heat advisory in September 2020. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

California lawmakers are looking to institute a ranking system for heat waves, much the way weather forecasters already do for hurricanes. If implemented, it would be the first state in the country to develop rankings for extreme heat — a dangerous issue that’s only becoming worse in a warming world.

“Without a way to rank heat waves, we treat extreme heat more like a weather story when it’s really a public-health crisis,” said California insurance commissioner Ricardo Lara, who will sponsor the bill.

The proposed ranking system for heat waves has three levels of alerts for extreme heat, with Number One being the least dangerous and Number Three being the most dangerous, based on how hot it actually is and the potential health impacts. (They’re based on standards developed by the Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance, a global coalition of cities, scientists, and government agencies; recently, Seville, Spain, became the first city in the world to launch this initiative, starting next year.)

The ranking system will also include advice for what interventions a community should do when it experiences a certain heat-wave category, such as limiting outdoor activity, sending urban search-and-rescue teams door to door to check on vulnerable community members, and asking residents to seek shelter at air-conditioned community centers.

The announcement comes on the heels of a report by the Los Angeles Times that found extreme heat probably caused about 3,900 deaths in California over the previous decade. That means the state undercounts the number of people who die from extreme heat by up to six times; vulnerable communities, like low-income communities and communities of color, were disproportionately affected.

Officials added that the state might also start naming heat waves in the future, like how storms are named, in an effort to call more attention to them. Moreover, the state might look at other ways of dealing with the heat such as appointing a chief heat officer to coordinate its response like the city of Miami has done. “It’s imperative that the city have a detailed plan in place to address this ongoing climate catastrophe,” California councilmember Paul Krekorian said in a statement calling for the creation of such a position.

California Might Start Ranking Heat Waves