Extreme heat shattered records up and down the West Coast over the weekend, threatening human health as well as the electricity grid. More than 45 million people across seven states were under heat alerts over the weekend. Extreme heat is the deadliest form of climate-related severe weather and compounds underlying societal inequities including racist housing policy. The heat is most dangerous for those experiencing homelessness or who otherwise are unable to access air conditioning, and high overnight temperatures are also especially dangerous because they prevent the human body from cooling down.

“A lot of hot interior locations are not cooling down at night, so the human body doesn’t get a break,” NWS forecaster Brooke Bingaman told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Our challenge closer to the coast is we are dealing with a population where a lot of people don’t have AC.” High temperature records fell across the Bay Area with preliminary readings recorded Monday highs of 116°F in Fairfield (prev. record: 108°F) and 100°F in Oakland (prev. record: 95°F). Death Valley hit 127°F on Thursday; if verified, that would break the global record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in September.

Holistic climate justice required

Some cities, like Los Angeles, have taken steps to mitigate the impact of extreme heatwaves, but those initiatives have not received the logistical and financial resources required. Marta Segura, named LA’s first chief heat officer earlier this year on top of her full-time job as the city’s climate emergency mobilization director, told the LA Times, “If we don’t serve the most vulnerable frontline communities and invest in them …​​ We’re not going to get to the climate solution for anyone.” (Multi-state heatwave: (CNN, Axios, Washington Post $, AP; Vulnerable populations: CBS; Records: (San Francisco Chronicle, KCRA Sacramento, Sacramento Bee $, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee $; Death Valley: Sacramento Bee $, CBS, Axios, Washington Post $, HuffPost; LA heat office: (LA Times $; Climate Signals background: Extreme heat and heatwaves)