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Federal project aims to reduce health effects of extreme heat in two Mountain West cities

A woman is holding a device in each hand that collects measures related to extreme heat. A man is standing to her right. They are next to a red-brick building.
Volunteers collect indices of heat exposure and thermal images of surfaces in a Charleston, South Carolina, community.

Extreme heat is one of the leading causes of weather-related illness and death in the U.S. A new federal project will help pinpoint its impact in four cities, including two in the Mountain West.

The 18-month project, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, supports state and local efforts to reduce the health effects of extreme heat in Las Vegas, Nev., Phoenix, Ariz., Miami, Fla., and Charleston, S.C.

According to the NOAA, the work in each city is specific to local needs and includes things like heat monitoring, identifying heat-risk reduction strategies, and improving services for the most vulnerable citizens.

In Las Vegas, one of the project partners is the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, the region’s transit authority.

“With increasing temperatures, we’re seeing increasing heat-related fatalities and hospitalizations,” said Paul Gully, a senior regional planner at the agency.

In fact, in 2021, there were a record 245 heat-related deaths in the greater Las Vegas area, according to a report by the Las Vegas-Review Journal. That July, the city hit 117 degrees, an all-time high.

“We need to be more intentional and thoughtful about ways we can address our warming climate and mitigate the impacts,” Gully said.

This year, Las Vegas ranked as the nation’s second fastest-warming city, according to a study by research group Climate Central. The city’s summer average temperatures have increased 5.8 degrees since 1970.

Ranked No. 1 is Reno, Nev., where summer temperatures have jumped 10.9 degrees.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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