64% of Americans are now exposed to extreme heat. Here's why that's worrying
Photo Credit:
Gary Hershorn / Getty Images
Hot in here

64% of Americans are now exposed to extreme heat. Here's why that's worrying

Eliza Siegel
November 15, 2022

The infamous Dust Bowl years of the 1930s saw unprecedented extreme heat waves decimate the Midwest and the Great Plains. Temperatures climbed to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit in states used to a relatively cool climate. Over the span of six years, roughly 5,000 people died from heat-related causes, and intense drought made agricultural efforts nearly impossible.

The Dust Bowl heat waves were something of an anomaly at the time, as there was little climate science at that time to explain the event. However, climate scientists today have reflected on the event as one of the first human-influenced climate events, triggered by coal-reliant industrialization, and as a harbinger of climate change.

Today, record-breaking heat waves have emerged with alarming frequency and more intensity than ever before. People in cities used to temperate or cool summers across the U.S. have been contending with temperatures more suited to Death Valley. Meanwhile, heat waves are becoming even more intense in already-hot locales, including the Sun Belt. Despite this, Americans are moving to Southern states at high rates, increasing the number of people who will be exposed to extreme heat.

To investigate how extreme heat is impacting cities across the country, OhmConnect compiled a list of how heat waves in major U.S. cities have changed over time, with data from sources including the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Health Organization, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Globalchange.gov, and other scientific research. The data available is from 1961 to 2021 across 50 large metropolitan areas.


OhmConnect’s free energy saving service allows its members to earn cash rewards, major biweekly prizes, and gift cards for saving energy during peak periods. Their collective impact has prevented an incredible amount of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere.

Important warnings about extreme heat conditions.

Heat waves have become more frequent across major US cities

U.S. cities are experiencing more heat waves every year. In the 1960s, cities endured an average of two heat waves per year. That number has grown to an average of six each year during the 2010s and 2020s, according to the EPA. Cities are particularly vulnerable to more heat waves because of factors like urban heat islands, an effect that makes urban areas hotter than surrounding rural regions. Many factors contribute to urban heat islands: darker surfaces like asphalt and roof shingles—which absorb rather than reflect heat—less shade from trees, and fewer plants emitting cooling moisture from their leaves.

Safety measures to take during extreme heat.

Current heat wave seasons last 49 days longer than they did in the 1960s

In addition to heat waves becoming more frequent, heat wave seasons have also become longer. In the 1960s, heat wave seasons lasted an average of 24 days a year. In the 2020s, that number has risen to more than 70 days a year. The expansion of heat wave seasons can be dangerous, since it widens the window for extreme temperatures during unusual times of the year. This can lead to situations in which people are not prepared, leaving them vulnerable.

The increased frequency of heat waves and length of heat wave seasons has inspired some cities to take action. In 2021, the mayor of Miami-Dade County appointed a chief heat officer, the first in the nation. This position is intended to strategize ways of keeping people safe from increasingly intense heat events in a city that is experiencing some of the worst heat waves in the country.

What is OhmConnect?

Curious about how you can fight climate change, save energy and earn rewards? Find answers to questions like, “What is OhmConnect?” and learn more about how to get rewarded for saving electricity.

The effects of extreme heat on health and environment.

The average heat wave lasts about 4 days, a day longer than in the 1960s

Longer heat waves have grave consequences for people's health and safety, particularly for those who are unhoused or who don't have access to air conditioning. Living for prolonged periods at very high temperatures without being able to cool off can increase the risk of heat-related illness and even death. To make matters worse, record-breaking heat during the nighttime has been reported across the country, removing the usual respite from heat offered by the sun going down, and adding to the danger already caused by several days of extreme temperatures.

Tips for preventing heat-related illnesses during extreme heat.

Temperature increases are now more extreme

The intensity of heat waves has steadily climbed over the past six decades. Both in regions accustomed to some amount of extreme temperatures, like the South, as well as in areas which have not previously experienced high temperatures, heat waves have become hotter and more deadly.

In 2021, the Pacific Northwest, a region known for its moderate weather, saw a blistering heat wave that peaked between 116 and 118 degrees Fahrenheit. The event caught many people unprepared, and hundreds of deaths were reported in Oregon and Washington, particularly among people who did not have access to air conditioning. Other cities in California and other parts of the Western U.S. experienced extreme heat waves in September 2022, making it the hottest September on record for the West.


Explore some of the reasons why your CA electric bill is higher than expected and find out the cost of the average electric bill in California.

Key statistics related to extreme heat events.

Dehydration and weather-related deaths are on the rise

Heat is the leading extreme weather-related cause of death in the U.S. The EPA estimates that between 600 and 1,300 deaths occur in the U.S. every year from extreme heat. Heat-related illnesses and deaths can happen when the body loses its ability to regulate its internal temperature. Dehydration and increased internal temperature can cause blood thickening, which leads to organ and heart damage.

Expert advice on how to cope with extreme heat.

Agriculture and energy: a point of no return

Extreme heat waves impact much more than people's ability to be outside without air conditioning. They also have serious environmental, agricultural, and energy-related ramifications. Heat waves harm crops, cause issues with plant growth, and make it difficult for livestock to survive. They also exacerbate drought, creating water shortages and conditions that are conducive to wildfires and other natural disasters.

Energy systems can also be strained by an increased need for high-energy utilities like air conditioning, with demand outstripping supply in some cases. In July 2022, Texans were instructed to conserve as much energy as possible to alleviate strain on the power grid as temperatures neared 110 F.

Resources for staying safe during extreme heat.

Preparation is key to facing extreme temperatures

As extreme heat events continue to become more frequent and severe, experts caution that being prepared for intense heat waves is one of the best ways to keep people safe. On an institutional level, the CDC recommends having early heat wave alerts in place on a city or county level to warn residents of impending extreme heat risks. This would also enable public cooling centers to open at appropriate times, a vital measure for those without air conditioning and people experiencing homelessness. Keeping hydrated and avoiding the outdoors during heat waves is especially important.

At the same time, measures can be taken to prevent the continued rise of temperatures, as well as to mediate the risks of straining energy systems. Increasing energy efficiency and forms of renewable energy would prevent power grids from being overwhelmed while limiting further emissions, which contribute to rising temperatures in the first place. Introducing more trees and vegetation to urban areas could also work to introduce shade, increase air quality and reduce the harm of emissions, and limit the impact of urban heat islands.

Image Source: Eli Mordechai // Shutterstock

Most recent posts
Save money. save energy.

Related Articles

See all >
A woman holds her iPhone while learning about the clean energy charging feature.
Reducing carbon footprint with your iPhone

Hold the Phone - How Your iPhone Can Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Learn about the new Clean Energy Charging feature on your iPhone and how it’s helping to promote renewable energy adoption.

Kids reading books about climate change
The next generation

The Power of Green Storytelling: Eco-Books for Kids to Inspire Change

Explore eco-friendly kids' books about climate change, inspiring the next generation to protect our planet.

Natural cleaning products on a green background
Green cleaning

7 Natural Cleaning Solutions To Help You Tackle Your Weekly Chores

7 ways to use natural ingredients to tackle your regular chores. Vinegar, lemon, baking soda and more!