Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version



Earth and Space Science Open Archive ESSOAr; Washington, Jul 2, 2021. DOI:10.1002/essoar.10507450.1


Open Access CC-BY


Despite similar incidence rates, Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI) in rural areas is under- studied in comparison to urban areas. • The environmental vulnerability variables in rural areas are dissimilar to urban areas, so we applied different variables to calculate them. • We found different organization of socioeconomic variables in calculated HVIs, suggesting separate heat strategies for urbanization levels.

Heatwaves cause excess mortality and physiological impacts on humans throughout the world, and climate change will intensify and increase the frequency of heat events. Many adaptation and mitigation studies use spatial distribution of highly vulnerable local populations to inform heat reduction and response plans. However, most available heat vulnerability studies focus on urban areas with high heat intensification by Urban Heat Islands (UHIs). Rural areas encompass different environmental and socioeconomic issues that require alternate analyses of vulnerability. We categorized Nebraska census tracts into four urbanization levels, then conducted factor analyses on each group and captured different patterns of socioeconomic vulnerabilities among resultant Heat Vulnerability Indices (HVIs). While disability is the major component of HVI in two urbanized classes, lower education, and races other than white have higher contributions in HVI for the two rural classes. To account for environmental vulnerability of HVI, we considered different land type combinations for each urban class based on their percentage areas and their differences in heat intensifications. Our results demonstrate different combinations of initial variables in heat vulnerability among urban classes of Nebraska and clustering of high and low heat vulnerable areas within the highest urbanized sections. Less urbanized areas show no spatial clustering of HVI. More studies with separation on urbanization level of residence can give insights into different socioeconomic vulnerability patterns in rural and urban areas, while also identifying changes in environmental variables that better capture heat intensification in rural settings.

Plain Language Summary: Heat waves are known as periods of abnormally high temperatures that can cause health problems, even deaths. The 2003 heat wave in Europe and the Chicago heat wave of 1995 are well known examples that are well-documented and caused thousands of mortalities and morbidities. Scientific studies show that climate change will cause more frequent, more extreme, and longer lasting heat waves in the future all over the world. Additionally, more people are expected to live in urban areas in the future, that are known to experience higher temperatures compared to their surrounding non-urban areas, because of concrete, asphalt, steel, and similar materials that absorb energy and return it as heat. Because of this issue, known as the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, and because more people live in urban areas, most studies tracking the most heat-threatened people are focused on urban areas, or use the same findings for rural areas, too. In this study, we separate the state of Nebraska into four levels of urbanizations from highest metropolitan to most rural and found that the socioeconomic variables combined differently based on urbanization.