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Community Reactions to Extreme Weather

Events: St. Louis Heatwave, 2012


Hannah Whitley
Oregon State University, College of Liberal Arts, School of Public Policy

INTRODUCTION RESULTS DISCUSSION


As part of a broader study examining reactions to Differential impacts St. Louis has a long history of extreme heat
extreme weather events in 15 communities throughout events, of which 2012 was no exception.
Tim ONeil, a reporter for the
the United States, this case study set out to examine St. Louis Post-Dispatch attributed
the St. Louis heatwave of 2012. St. Louis abundance of brick Before the summer of 2012s heatwave took its
building architecture as a primary toll, the city already had policies in place aimed
We aim to bring insight to two distinct bodies of work: at preventing deaths and protecting people from
influence in heat-related deaths.
(1) the general literature on social movements, and (2) such events, largely based on experiences
the more specialized scholarship on climate change ONeil remarked that most low- related to the 1980 heatwave.
awareness and action from the fields of environmental income homes in St. Louis were
built in the 1880s and are either
sociology and psychology. At the same time, the St. Louis Metropolitan
multi-story brick buildings or two-
The summers heatwave, with 10 consecutive days of story bungalows with flat roofs.
area is a place where most opinion leaders (at
triple-digit weather, began on June 27 and lasted until When these homes are hit with least those interviewed) expressed strong
extreme temperatures, they heat beliefs that human-caused climate change is
July 7, 2012. According to initial SHELDUS fatality occurring and affecting weather, not only in the
up and literally cook whatever is
reports, the heatwave claimed the lives of inside. As a result, most heat- St. Louis area, but across the state. Particularly,
15 St. Louis residents. related deaths occur when victims Missouris repeated exposure to extreme
live in overheated homes without weather events in 2011 (1 blizzard, 2 floods, 2
v
Addresses provided by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. air conditioning.
tornados, and 1 heat wave/drought) seems to
METHODS The majority of deaths were black, low income, senior women over
70 years old, living with a cognitive disability or mental illness.
have also affected public opinion on the subject.
Data collection for this study is mixed methods in - Pam Walker, former City of St. Louis Health Director
nature, bringing together both content analyses and The 2012 heatwave itself does not appear to
semi-structured interviews. Community mobilization have led to significant discussions, policy
Periods of prolonged high temperatures have been a historical threat to the area change, or community engagement in issues
Content analysis (n = 212) The summer 1980 heatwave, which killed more than 150 St. Louis Metropolitan related to climate change.
Newspaper articles obtained from the area residents, brought about the majority of government, non-profit, and
St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Articles ranged from June 27, 2012, to
community response policies and protocols which are still in place. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
July 27, 2013 one full year after the Dr. Hilary Boudet, School of Public Policy
Framing the event Community Reactions to Extreme Weather
heatwave occurred. The majority of articles focused on comparing the 2012 heatwave to heatwaves of years past. Events Public Policy graduate student team
Semi-structured interviews (n = 11) Few explicit links made in either articles or editorials link the event to climate change: Project mentors at Stanford University
Environmental organization representatives (4) Im concerned about climate change. And Im really concerned what the changing climate is going to be like for
Extension Climatologist (1) my children... National Science Foundation,
St. Louis Post- Dispatch Reporters (2) Research Experience for Undergrads (REU)
I pray that my future grandchildren can explore the exquisite natural spaces we all have enjoyed and taken for funding
Non-elected government officials (3) granted. Environmental preservation must take priority in citizens hearts and leaders minds
Non-profit board member (1) Oregon State University,
Interviews were conducted on-location in Missouri Connections to climate change? State of Missouri Heat Related Deaths Undergraduate Research, Innovation,
from July 25-28, 2016; 7 were in-person, 3 were Activists and scholars are having a difficult time 2000-2015* Scholarship and the Arts (URISC) funding
completed over the phone, 1 was through Skype. With attributing local heatwaves to global phenomenon
interviews lasting an average of one hour in length, 52 52 School of Public Policy,
potential interviewees were identified during the The thing is, what happens in Missouri, climate 47 Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship
content analysis coding process and were wise, obviously doesnt translate that Program (URAP)
subsequently contacted to participate in this study. [climate change] is happening globally 34
- Pat Guinan, State Extension Climatologist, 26
Interviewees were asked a series of questions 24 25 25
University of Missouri 23
regarding: 18 17
1. St. Louis prior to the heatwave My understanding is that people are seeing these 14 14
10 11
2. Main impacts/changes/policies implemented different events [across the country] and theyre
3
after the event bringing [their observations] back to their own
3. Community climate change opinions community and saying, What can I do?
(before/after the event) How can I make a difference here?
- Mitch Leachman, Executive Director, *Source: Jim Kramper, National Weather Service, NOAA, St. Charles, MO.
St. Louis Audubon Society