Lessons Learned

Part of the Climate Change exhibition.

The Issue: Extreme Heat

Recent heat waves have caught some cities unprepared. Will they be ready for the next one?

A rooftop garden on Chicago's City Hall.
City of Chicago-Department of Environment/Mark Farina

The Strategy: Community Awareness

Heat waves can be deadly, especially for elderly people living alone in city apartments. The city of Chicago was not ready for a week-long heat wave in July 1995, when the heat index reached 48.8°C (125°F). A reported 739 people died due to the heat. In 1999, another heat wave caused 110 heat-related deaths, even though Chicago opened cooling centers and increased emergency staff.

In 2006, the state of Illinois launched its "Keep Cool Illinois" campaign to help residents beat the heat, especially in cities. The program supports free cooling stations, announces heat advisories, and pays utility bills for those who qualify, so they can afford to run fans and air conditioners. Still, experts say one of the best strategies during hot weather is for people to watch out for each other and help the most vulnerable.