California Heat Crisis

Kevin A. Thompson
August 30, 2023

(Photo: Irrigation canal in El Centro, Imperial Valley, the hottest city in California)

California’s heat crisis is not going away.  The state’s Ethnic Media Services held a briefing on August 29, 2023 that provided personal and collective actions to survive the crisis.

California now has a new office of Extreme Heat and Community Resilience. The director, Mr. Braden Kay, who originally came from Arizona stated that “Arizona’s future is what California cities are facing.”

Mr. Kay said that all 58 counties in the state are facing increasing heat. He said that the news highlights the record high 120 degree temperatures in Death Valley, heat deaths start happening when the daily temps remain at 90 degrees for days, and nights, also. 

BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) and tribal communities are the most impacted by the heat crisis, due to less tree cover in their neighborhoods, lack of air conditioning, and lack of money to ameliorate any issues. 

Mr. Kay said we may move to more nighttime activities, such as the night markets in Saudi Arabia.  

He listed many long-term infrastructure improvements that will need to be installed, such as back-up batteries for the power grid.

Asthma educator and mom, Esther Bejarano reported that her city, El Centro, is the hottest in California today. As a mother of three, including one with asthma, she expressed concerns about her children playing outside at school.  Soccer practices have been canceled when temps at 6pm were still 100 degrees.

Dr. Sharon Okonkwo-Holmes of Kaiser Permanente in Pasadena, gave a long list of tips for personal protection, including drinking eight bottles of water daily (double the usual four). She reported that many elderly patients have been prescribed meds that are diuretic (causing dehydration as a side effect, as does caffeine), which can lead to swelling in the extremities during a heat crisis.  

People who live alone are at risk of lying down, dehydrating and having seizures, without anyone noticing until it's too late. Dr. Okonkwo-Holmes said “Do not stay indoors and overheat and do not go outside with no shade.” 

She also shared concern for student athletes, especially football players, who wear heavy equipment in the August heat. 

Dr. Jonathan Pilch of Watsonville Wetlands Watch said Watsonville should have 30% tree canopy, much more than it currently has. Schools are in need of this the most.  The bright side is young people are eager to intern in school greening projects, which teach them about the sciences, landscaping  and expands the future tree canopy for the school campuses. 

As mentioned in the briefing, it takes five years for trees to grow large enough to mitigate the heat. Tree-planting is a long-term solution.  Another long-term solution was mention by Mr. Kay when he said California cities may start looking more like the night markets of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Fellow soldiers who served there told me that the cities shut down during the midday heat of 120 degrees. Our 9-5 Western work  schedule, based on the climate of northern Europe, should change to match our climate realities here in the southwestern U.S. (my opinion)

The Heat Crisis of California will continue. Solutions will come from personal choices, smart landscaping, improved infrastructure, and major shifts in how Californians plan their schedules and other aspects of their society.    

The Extreme Heat and Community Resistance Program is part of Governor Newsom’s Office of Planning and Research. The Extreme Heat Action Plan can be viewed as PDF at