Heat Ready Roanoke

Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time and has major health and healthcare implications. Heatwaves are one of the most dangerous of all weather-related disasters. Climate change will increase their frequency, duration, and intensity. Heat exposure and health risks are closely linked to the built environment of cities and everyday lived experiences. For example, residents living in neighborhoods lacking trees and green spaces, weatherization and air conditioning, and/or adequate transportation can be exposed to dangerous temperatures throughout a hot day. This may lead to heat cramps, exhaustion, or heat stroke, a life-threatening emergency.

In 2020, the City of Roanoke Office of Sustainability worked with citizen scientists to develop detailed maps depicting the areas of the city with the highest air temperatures. The mapping showed that areas with high levels of social vulnerability, including low-income households, seniors, and communities of color, were on average 7-10 degrees F warmer than other areas of the city, and they also score poorly on the Tree Equity Score. With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) over the next two years, the Heat Ready, Roanoke! project will bring together urban planners, local government, healthcare professionals, and residents to: (1) understand the problem of extreme heat, (2) work together to connect existing resources, and (3) co-produce future approaches to increase community resilience to extreme heat using the strategies outlined below.

Heat Mitigation Strategies | Led by Virginia Tech and Roanoke City Public Schools

The STEM+ Urban Planning Heat Resilience curriculum for middle school students, paired with a Science and Urban Planning Family Summit, will help students and families identify heat-related problems and empower communities to brainstorm how to protect health and improve their built environment.

Heat Management Strategies | Led by Carilion Clinic and Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action (VCCA)

Clinicians and community health staff will receive training on climate change’s impacts on health with a focus on heat illness; will partner with community organizations, including the Healthy Homes Initiative, to connect clients with resources to improve their health and living environment, such as free air-conditioning units and utility payment assistance; and will host a health and climate conference.

Heat Resilience Strategies | Led by City of Roanoke, VCCA, and Carilion Clinic

Trained healthcare providers, the City of Roanoke, community leaders, and organizations will host a Heat Resilience Fair to increase awareness about heat-related mental and physical health risks and available resources in the city. Results and evaluation of the grant work will provide valuable insights to influence future city plans including mitigation and adaptation strategies and policy development that address heat effects.

This content was prepared by the Carilion Medical Center under award NA22SEC0080001 from the Environmental Literacy Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Downloadable factsheet PDF with informational links

Click on factsheet images to enlarge

Heat Illness in Roanoke Fact Sheet For more information, please visit: https://planroanoke.org/heat-ready-roanoke/ Where people live affects their exposure to heat. More asphalt and concrete, and fewer trees and vegetation, make communities hotter. Some areas of Roanoke are much hotter than others, particularly neighborhoods that have been targeted by redlining and urban renewal. These actions have led to longterm government disinvestment in communities with low-income and minority residents, and the development of large infrastructure projects like highways. Within the City of Roanoke, previously redlined areas are 7-10°F hotter than non-redlined areas. Source: https://www.roanokeva.gov/2720/Urban-Heat-Island-Effect Greater exposure: Relevant for workers in hot environments, athletes, people living in homes without air conditioning, and/or individuals experiencing homelessness. Greater vulnerability: Relevant for seniors or young children, those who are pregnant, people with chronic health conditions, and/or those who are taking certain medications.People at Risk and Chronic Diseases in Roanoke City vs. Virginia City of Roanoke residents have higher percentages of pre-existing health conditions than the Virginia state average, which predisposes them to heat-related illness. Census Tract 26 in Southeast Roanoke City has the lowest life expectancy in the Roanoke Valley at 68.4 years, compared to 81 years in other counties. 21% of City adults live in poverty, twice the state average, and 32% of children live in poverty in Roanoke City. Low-income households may not be able to afford air conditioning or comprehensive healthcare. The average heat event day in Virginia between 2016-2020 was associated with approximately 5 additional ambulatory care visits, 25 additional hospitalizations, and 59 additional emergency department visits for heat-related and/or heat-adjacent illnesses. Multiplying these additional visits by the average 80 heat event days per summer in Virginia in this time period suggests that heat events across the state resulted in nearly: more ambulatory care visits 400 more emergency department visits 7,000 more heat-related hospital admissions 2,000 Heat Days Increase Use of Medical Services in Virginia Each Year Emergency Department visits increase by 6% to 7%. For Carilion Clinic, this translates to an additional 10 to 12 patients per day. During heat waves in Roanoke... Source: https://issuu.com/carilionclinic/docs/2021_cmc_cha_ report_final Source: https://www.americanprogress.org/article/the-health-care-costs-of-extreme-heat/ Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acem.13919




Heat Illness

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke occurs when the body’s temperature rises quickly, which can lead to death. Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you or someone you know has the following symptoms:

  • Hot, dry skin
  • Confusion, hallucinations and disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness or being unresponsive
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fast, strong pulse
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness

Heat Exhaustion

If you or someone you know has signs of heat exhaustion, get to a cool place, remove extra clothes and drink lots of water.

Symptoms to look for:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Cold, clammy skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • Headache
  • Decreased energy
  • Loss of appetite or nausea

Heat cramps 

Muscular pains and spasms, usually in the legs or abdomen are often an early sign the body is having trouble with the heat.

Get more information on heat related illness here

Who is most affected by heat?

While everyone is affected by extreme heat, some people are at higher risk than others. 

People are more likely to die from heat if they do not have or use air conditioning and:

  • Have chronic medical conditions, such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes or obesity.
  • Have serious mental health, cognitive or developmental conditions, such as dementia or schizophrenia.
  • Take medicines that make it difficult for your body to stay cool (speak to your doctor or pharmacist for more information).
  • Misuse drugs or alcohol.
  • Have limited mobility or are unable to leave the home.

Adults age 60 and older are more likely to have some combination of these risk factors. Heat impacts are also more likely to be experienced among: 

  • Infants and children: Babies and children up to 4 years old are more sensitive to heat. Caregivers need to make sure that infants and children stay cool and have enough to drink. Watch for signs they may be getting sick from the heat. Never leave children by themselves in a vehicle.
  • Pregnant women: Pregnant women are sensitive to heat. An increase in body temperature may bring on labor, preterm birth or lower birth weight. Those who are pregnant should stay in a cool place, drink fluids and take it easy when it’s hot.
  • Workers: People who work in hot indoor places are at risk of getting sick from the heat. People who work outside are also at risk during very hot weather. Water, rest and keeping cool can help workers stay safe.


Heat illness information from NYC.gov 

VCCA Heat Report 2021

Roanoke’s summer heat and humidity is not just uncomfortable. It can be dangerous. Extreme heat can push the human body beyond its limits, making it extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Because of climate change, Roanoke residents are experiencing hotter temperatures, making it more important than ever to be ready. Take control of your health and get heat ready with the following information, tips, and resources. 

Takes steps to stay safe 

Indoor Prevention

Follow these tips to help lower your risk of suffering from heat illness while indoors:

  • Use your air conditioner if you have one. Fans are not enough to stay cool.
  • Set your air conditioning unit to 78° or “low cool” to be safe, comfortable and save money. Just a few hours in a cool place can make a difference.
  • Close window shades or curtains.
  • Try not to use your stove and oven.
  • Take a cool shower or bath.
  • Drink plenty of water, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine or lots of sugar.

Outdoor Prevention

Stay safe outdoors with these tips:

  • Avoid strenuous physical activity.
  • Drink plenty of water, even if you are not thirsty.
  • Stay in the shade and out of direct sun.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothes.
  • Put a hat on to protect your face and head.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
  • Limit outdoor activities to early morning and late evening hours.
  • Avoid drinks with alcohol, caffeine or sugar.

If you work outdoors regularly, you are at higher risk for heat illness. To lower your risk:

  • Drink water every 15 minutes.
  • Take frequent rest breaks in shaded or air-conditioned areas.
  • Wear lightweight, light colored, loose-fitting clothing if possible.
  • Be alert for the signs of heat illness in yourself and in your colleagues.

Check the Weather Reports

Regularly check the heat index at the National Weather Service or other news source. The heat index is a measure of how hot it feels based on temperature and humidity. A heat index above 95°F is especially dangerous.

The national website, www.heat.gov serves as the premier source of heat and health information for the nation to reduce the health, economic, and infrastructural impacts of extreme heat.

What You Can Do

Make sure to check in on elderly neighbors and those who live alone during times of extreme heat to make sure they are ok.

Planting trees in our communities provides shade and reduces temperatures. 

We can take steps to protect our communities from extreme heat by supporting policies that address climate change. Reducing air pollution helps to keep a safe climate for our families and future generations. Learn more about how climate change affects health here.

Learn about heat illness prevention for communities and people with specific health conditions.  View resources and fact sheets here: https://www.americares.org/what-we-do/community-health/climate-resilient-health-clinics/


Heat Prevention Tips from NYC.gov

VCCA Heat Report 2021

Why the environment matters

The Urban Heat Island Effect

Where people live also impacts their safety from extreme heat. Cities are generally hotter than rural areas due to the “Urban Heat Island” effect. Even where people live within the same city matters.  In Roanoke, temperatures can be 7-10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in some parts of the City than others. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Explorer, Roanoke will experience higher temperatures with more intense rainfall events. In a period of official weather data extending from 1912 to 2019, nine of the ten warmest summers for average daily low temperature have occurred since 2005. 

A map of the City of Roanoke showing temperature differences in a heat island study

But not everyone will suffer equally. Climate-induced weather events have the most profound impact on those who have the least access to financial resources, historically underserved communities, and those struggling with additional health conditions. Extreme heat is creating health and safety threats, especially for older adults, people experiencing homelessness, and those whose homes lack air conditioning.

This is also related to historical racism and underinvestment associated with the now banned racist housing policy called redlining.  More and more research is showing that the hottest neighborhoods today are the same neighborhoods once redlined under racially discriminatory home lending practices in the mid-1900s. These neighborhoods often remain lower income and communities of color, with fewer trees and open spaces, exposing residents who need to walk or use public transportation to dangerous heat. In Roanoke specifically, the heat island study done by CAPA found that previously redlined communities have air temperatures that are 7 – 10 degrees F hotter than non-redlined areas in the City.

Read more on this issue and ways to help here.

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