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George Maier, Andrew Grundstein, Woncheol Jang, Chao Li, Luke P. Naeher, and Marshall Shepherd

Abstract

Extreme heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States. Vulnerability to extreme heat has previously been identified and mapped in urban areas to improve heat morbidity and mortality prevention efforts. However, only limited work has examined vulnerability outside of urban locations. This study seeks to broaden the geographic context of earlier work and compute heat vulnerability across the state of Georgia, which offers diverse landscapes and populations with varying sociodemographic characteristics. Here, a modified heat vulnerability index (HVI) developed by Reid et al. is used to characterize vulnerability by county. About half of counties with the greatest heat vulnerability index scores contain the larger cities in the state (i.e., Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon, and Savannah), while the other half of high-vulnerability counties are located in more rural counties clustered in southwestern and east-central Georgia. The source of vulnerability varied between the more urban and rural high-vulnerability counties, with poverty and population of nonwhite residents driving vulnerability in the more urban counties and social isolation/population of elderly/poor health the dominant factor in the more rural counties. Additionally, the effectiveness of the HVI in identifying vulnerable populations was investigated by examining the effect of modification of the vulnerability index score with mortality during extreme heat. Except for the least vulnerable categories, the relative risk of mortality increases with increasing vulnerability. For the highest-vulnerability counties, oppressively hot days lead to a 7.7% increase in mortality.

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