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Heat wave readiness: Tacoma prepares for new normal of climate change

Authorities are still looking into the fallout from last weekend's heat wave, but climate trends show that another one may be inevitable.

TACOMA, Wash. — Tacoma is trying to find an answer for the next heat wave.  

The heat wave is still fresh on the minds of many in Pierce County, but health officials say that trends show that this is just the first of more to come.

“Climate change is causing an increasing frequency and intensity of heat waves and other extreme weather events,” said Dr. Jeffery Duchin, health officer for King County. “This recent heat wave should not be thought of as an anomaly but the new normal based on the amount of global warming that has already occurred. And we all need to be prepared.”

In Tacoma, preparation means dealing with the issues that caused the heat wave in the first place.

RELATED: Heat wave kills dozens across Northwest as health officials warn of climate change's future toll

The city is putting together requirements for new city facilities and vehicles to use low carbon fuel and building a plant that will convert methane generated by the water treatment plant into fuel for vehicles.

Tacoma has also come up with a more natural way to protect some of its most vulnerable residents from the heat.

“One of the things we’re aware of – especially in the low-income neighborhoods where they don’t have a lot of tree canopy – they’re a lot more susceptible and vulnerable to these high heat events, so we have a program to plant more trees in those underserved areas,” said James Parvey, chief sustainability officer for the city of Tacoma.

Officials say that kind of investment in the community is vital if Tacoma is going to be able to endure this new normal.  

“By being prepared for these kinds of things up front, we don’t have to deal with them as emergencies," Parvey said. "We don’t have the health hazards we might otherwise have. And so we always try to frame it that way as this is an opportunity to build a better city."

Tacoma is encouraging people to join their tree planting program, and if you send an email to trees@cityoftacoma.org, they’ll send you a voucher worth $30 towards planting a tree on your property.

The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office says it’s still investigating a number of deaths for any connections to last weekend’s heat wave, and health authorities say that death toll may change as more information is made available.


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