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California proposes first of its kind heat ranking system

AccuWeather logo AccuWeather 11/29/2021 Lauren Fox

After experiencing the hottest summer on record this past summer in California, lawmakers in the state have proposed a new ranking system for heat waves.

The proposed ranking system, which would include three levels ranging from least to most dangerous, would be the first of its kind for heat waves, but similar to the ranking system that already exists for hurricanes. It will be formally introduced to the legislature in January 2022.

A heat wave, as defined by the National Weather Service, is a period of abnormally hot temperatures that lasts for at least two days. They can occur with or without high levels of humidity and can lead to dangerous heat-related illnesses, such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

According to an investigation conducted by The Los Angeles Times, heat in California may have resulted in 3,900 deaths over the past decade in the state, which is six times more than the amount that state records have recorded.

Legislatures have also discussed the idea of naming heat waves in the future as well, similar to the way hurricanes are named.

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In this Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, photo provided by the National Park Service, an inter-agency search and rescue crew walks past a sign reading" "Stop, Extreme Heat Danger," with park rangers responding on foot near Red Cathedral along the Golden Canyon Trail in Death Valley National Park, Calif. Authorities say 60-year-old Lawrence Stanback died Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, while hiking near Red Cathedral along the Golden Canyon Trail. That day temperatures reached 108 degrees Fahrenheit. (National Park Service via AP)

"We really treat extreme heat more like a weather story, what it really is is a public health crisis," Ricardo Lara, California insurance commissioner, said. "We have more deaths and injuries from heat waves than from any other climate threat."

Lara is one of the sponsors of the bill that proposes ranking heat waves by danger. The ranking system would also include recommendations for how communities can best prepare for an incoming heat wave.

"A heat wave warning could urge vulnerable people, like our elderly or those with respiratory illnesses, to decrease physical activity outside, limit certain electricity use and seek shelter," Lara told AccuWeather's Kim Leoffler.

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People visit a thermometer Sunday, July 11, 2021, in Death Valley National Park, Calif. Death Valley in southeastern California's Mojave Desert reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit (53 Celsius) on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service's reading at Furnace Creek. The high temperature was actually lower than the previous day, when the location reached 130 F (54 C). (AP Photo/John Locher)

At-risk residents could also have more time to prepare to go to a nearby cooling center through the use of the ranking system, as they would be able to give residents more warning ahead of time.

"Unlike earthquakes, we can tell when an extreme heat wave is coming, how long it's going to last, and so we can better prepare not only our communities but also our local governments," Lara said.

Reporting by Kim Leoffler

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