Geographic Variation in Risk Perceptions and Vulnerability to Extreme Heat Hazards in the U.S.

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Association of American Geographers (AAG) Annual Meeting


Association of American Geographers (AAG)


San Francisco, CA

Publication Date



Extreme heat events are the leading weather-related cause of death in the U.S. and have impacts on critical systems including food, water, energy and infrastructure. The hazard of extreme heat is exacerbated by climate change, which is projected to increase the frequency, duration, and severity of heat waves. The hazard is also compounded by ongoing urbanization that magnifies urban heat island effects and an aging population that is more vulnerable to heat stress. Despite the magnitude of the hazard, little is known about how the public perceives the risks of extreme heat events, how risk perceptions influence social vulnerability and behavioral responses to extreme heat, or how risk perceptions vary geographically relative to vulnerability. This paper presents new data on public risk perceptions of extreme heat events from a large nationally representative survey of the U.S. population in 2015. Using national survey data, we develop a multilevel regression and poststratification model to map geographic variation in risk perceptions of extreme heat across the U.S. at the state and county level, while also identifying individual-level and community-level predictors of risk perceptions. We highlight patterns in risk perceptions that converge and diverge with patterns of social and physical vulnerability to extreme heat events. Such comprehensive high-resolution data on geographic variations in risk perceptions can help to calibrate models of social vulnerability and target risk communication and preparedness efforts to protect vulnerable populations.

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