New Study Prompts Change To Northeast Region Heat Advisory Policy

May 10, 2017

A new heat advisory policy for the northeast will take effect this summer thanks to a study published today that looks at the relationship between heat and health in New England.

Researchers in Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire analyzed ten years of hospital and weather data. They found on days where the heat index reached 95 degrees, hospital visits for all causes went up 7.5 percent compared to days with a heat index of 75 degrees. The number of deaths from all causes went up 5.1 percent. 

Before the study, the National Weather Service Northeast Region issued heat advisories for a heat index of 100 degrees that lasted two or more consecutive hours. Heat advisories will be sent out this summer when the heat index reaches 95 degrees on two or more consecutive days. 

Julia Gold, co-author of the study and climate change program manager at the Rhode Island Department of Health, said the results of the study will allow for better public health communication.

"So, before it gets so hot where we're having significant health impacts occurring, messaging can get out to the public and hopefully people can take better action to prepare themselves and protect themselves from negative health impacts," Gold said. 

The study also found people with pre-existing conditions, such as asthma and heart disease, the elderly, people who work outside and people from lower income communities fared much worse when the heat index reached 95 degrees. 

The heat index reaches 90 degrees 10 days during an average summer in Rhode Island, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health. Gold said climate change has caused warmer summers in the state and they are expected in the future. 

The study was led by Gregory Wellenius from Brown University School of Public Health and co-authored by public health officials in Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire. This is the first study that documents the relationship between heat and health in New England.