Geography Publications and Other Works

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Heat is the deadliest meteorological hazard; however, those exposed to heat often do not feel they are in danger of heat-health effects and do not take precautions to avoid heat exposure. Socioeconomic factors, such as the high cost of running air conditioning, might prevent people from taking adaption measures. We assessed via a mixed-methods survey how residents of urban Knoxville, Tennessee, (n = 86) describe and interpret their personal vulnerability during hot weather. Thematic analyses reveal that many respondents describe uncomfortably hot weather based on its consequences, such as health effects and the need to change normal behavior, which misaligns with traditional heat-communication measures using specific weather conditions. Only 55% of those who perceived excessive heat as dangerous cited health as a cause for concern. Respondents who have experienced health issues during hot weather were more likely to perceive heat as dangerous and take actions to reduce heat exposure. Social cohesion was not a chief concern for our respondents, even though it has been connected to reducing time-delayed heat-health effects. Results support using thematic analyses, an underutilized tool in climatology research, to improve understanding of public perception of atmospheric hazards. We recommend a multi-faceted approach to addressing heat vulnerability.

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