Motivation for heat adaption: How perception and exposure affect individual behaviors during hot weather in Knoxville, Tennessee

Authors: Alisa L. Hass*, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Kelsey N. Ellis, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Topics: Climatology and Meteorology, Environmental Perception, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: Heat Perception, Hazard Preparedness, Climatology
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Balcony B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Heat is the deadliest meteorological hazard; however, those who are exposed to heat often do not feel they are in danger to heat-related health effects and do not take the necessary precautions to avoid heat exposure. Socioeconomic factors, such as the high cost of running air conditioning, might prevent people from taking adaption measures. We use a mixed-methods survey (n=86) collected from residents of urban areas in Knoxville, Tennessee, to determine how respondents 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 reason why they were concerned about heat. Respondents who have experienced health issues during hot weather were more likely to perceive heat as dangerous and take actions to reduce heat exposure and heat-health effects. Social cohesion was not a chief concern for our respondents, even though it has been connected to reducing time-delayed heat-health effects. These results support the use of thematic analyses, a relatively underutilized tool, in climatology research to increase understanding of public perception of meteorological hazards. We recommend a multi-faceted approach to addressing heat vulnerability. This could include increasing access to heat adaption methods, increasing social cohesion, changing the perception of heat-related dangers through community education, and refining heat risk communication.

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