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The U.S. has a new heat warning system called HeatRisk


Last month was the hottest March on record. The same goes for February, January, December, and so on, back for 10 straight months. And now U.S. health officials are preparing for the summer heat. Here's NPR's Pien Huang.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: It's a cool morning in Washington, D.C. A green day for heat risk, meaning there is none, according to the government's new heat risk tool. Dr. Ari Bernstein, head of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, says It's a good day to plan ahead.

ARI BERNSTEIN: We're getting ahead. We're preparing for hot weather. Our guidance is really designed to help create that plan.

HUANG: The CDC, along with some other federal agencies, has launched a new heat risk forecast. It's a map where people can type in their zip codes and get a sense of how extreme the heat is expected to be over the next week. It's based on temperature, some measure of humidity, and how unusual or unrelenting the heat may be. Dr. Mandy Cohen, head of the CDC, says it can be found at cdc.gov/heatrisk.

MANDY COHEN: We want to make sure we're sharing good, simple information, tools that people can use in their everyday lives, particularly if there's someone who is at higher risk, like someone with heart disease, a pregnant mom, a kid with asthma.

HUANG: On yellow or orange heat risk days, both fairly common in the summer, it's important for people at risk to stay cool and hydrated. But working outside or exercising on hot days can lead to problems, even for people who appear quite healthy. According to CDC, there was a surge in heat-related emergency room visits last summer, especially among men and working age adults, and more than 1,200 people die from extreme heat every year. Ken Graham, director of the National Weather Service, says everybody should take precautions when the new federal heat risk map shows red or magenta days.

KEN GRAHAM: You might change the day you work on something, a construction project, or the Department of Transportation may change things to say, well, you know what, we're not going to work on Monday. We may postpone this to a later day when the heat risk is less.

HUANG: Employers in some states are required to provide shade and water breaks to people working outside. Texas and Florida have banned such protections for outdoor workers. Graham says the heat problem is only expected to get worse.

GRAHAM: Heat waves are getting hotter, longer, more frequent, and you're getting less relief at night.

HUANG: Heat-related illness can start as a rash or a headache or nausea, but if it's hot enough, it can quickly turn into a life-threatening situation,.

Pien Huang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Pien Huang is a health reporter on the Science desk. She was NPR's first Reflect America Fellow, working with shows, desks and podcasts to bring more diverse voices to air and online.