Our Warming City Impacts All of Us
In Madison and across Wisconsin, temperatures are on the rise. Over the most recent decade, Madison experienced more extremely warm nights than any decade in the previous 70 years. The number of these extreme heat events is expected to triple by the middle of this century due to climate change.
Extreme heat poses immediate and longer-term threats to our health, our infrastructure, our economy, and more. Health risks include increased breathing problems, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. In fact, heat waves kill more people in the US than any other weather event. And extreme heat poses a bigger risk to public health in places with cooler climates like Wisconsin, because these events have been infrequent in the past.
In addition, heat waves lead to increased summertime peak energy demand and energy costs, disruptions to power and transportation infrastructure, reduced air and water quality, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. These heat impacts significantly affect our most vulnerable residents—children, the elderly, and those with preexisting conditions.
Preparing for and protecting Madisonians during extreme heat events is a key part of the City of Madison’s climate resilience strategy. The City is currently collaborating with researchers at the University of Wisconsin Madison to map urban heat islands in the city and develop strategies to cool the city and keep us all safe during extreme heat.
Urban Heat Islands Make Extreme Heat Worse
While climate change is increasing temperatures for everyone, some areas are hotter than others. Cities tend to be hotter than more suburban or rural areas. Buildings, concrete, steel, and other development absorb and hold on to heat longer than open green spaces, raising temperatures and making them difficult to cool.
These urban heat islands – where buildings, concrete, and other development are significantly warmer than surrounding areas – exacerbate the impacts of heat waves.
The City of Madison is collaborating with scientists at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Professor Chris Kurchark and Elizabeth Berg, to map the impacts of extreme heat (due to rising temperature and the urban heat island) as well as places to cool off in each neighborhood. Progress on this work will be shared here when it is available.
During Heat Waves Stay Cool, Hydrated, and Connected
Heat waves can be dangerous and even deadly, especially for people more sensitive to high temperatures such as children, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions. Public Health Madison & Dane County suggests the following strategies for staying safe during extreme heat events.
- Stay in air-conditioned buildings. If you need a cool place to stay, public places such as local senior and community centers, libraries, and malls are good options. Call ahead to confirm their hours.
- Limit outdoor activity, especially midday when it is the hottest part of the day, and avoid direct sunlight.
- Wear loose, lightweight, light-colored clothing.
- Never sit in a parked car or leave a person or pet in a parked car.
- Drink more water than usual and don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink.
- Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working or exercising outside.
- Avoid alcohol and liquids containing high amounts of sugar.
- Make sure your family and pets are drinking enough water.
- Check your local news for extreme heat warnings and safety tips.
- Regularly check on friends, loved-ones, and neighbors. Call, text, or drop by
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides additional helpful tips, information, and resources to help you stay safe in the extreme heat this summer.
Wisconsin Heat Health Network
The City of Madison is a member of the Wisconsin Heat Health Network (WHHN), a coalition of climate scientists, health experts and sustainability professionals who are exploring health related risks associated with extreme heat in both Dane and Milwaukee Counties.
The coalition focuses on understanding extreme heat and developing tools and resources to help keep residents safe during extreme heat events. Click the image on the right to access WHHN's summary of major heat impacts in Dane County.
Check out this flier from the Wisconsin Heath Health Network for more info about how heat impacts our health.