It’s no secret: the world is heating up. Inevitably, people are starting to take notice. More people are searching for information on extreme heat than ever before, according to Google—and the company is hoping to make those search results clearer.
With a new search feature, Google says it wants to help its users stay cool (and safe) during increasingly common and intense heat waves. The tech giant is adding extreme heat alerts to its search results, as announced in a Wednesday blogpost. The feature will roll out over the course of the next few months in the U.S. and parts of Europe, a company spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email.
When someone in a covered region searches for information on extreme heat via Google, the site will now provide local-information on any ongoing heat waves. Per the company’s press release, the alerts will include forecasted temperatures, when a heat wave is expected to start and end, relevant local news, and tips on how to stay healthy under the weather conditions.
The change will impact search terms like ‘excessive heat,’ ‘heat wave,’ ‘severe heat,’ and weather inquiries, a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo. If you’re searching any of those terms along with a particular place—Google will show you warnings for that area. Otherwise the search engine will rely on a user’s location settings to share relevant info.
To help make sure the suggestions it provides are accurate, Google has said it is partnering with Global Heat Health Information Network, a non-profit group focused on managing the harms of extreme heat worldwide. Weather forecast information will come via The Weather Channel and the alerts will include official updates from local and national weather service offices, the spokesperson said.
In addition to the new heat alerts, the company says it has also expanded its available tools for city planners and researchers that track things like tree canopy to help reduce the impacts of the urban heat island effect.
The new heat alerts add to the list of existing extreme weather events and natural disasters that Google already displays similar alerts for. Searches related to hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires have prompted location-specific information to appear at the top-of-search for years now, per a Tech Crunch report.
But last year, heat waves were front of the internet’s mind. Google users searched for heat wave information more in July 2022 than at any other time in the company’s data tracking history, the company noted in its blogpost. Hence, the addition.
Worth noting: the National Weather Service and other forecasting agencies around the world already issue and offer their own localized advisories and recommendations surrounding intense heat. But more information available in more places can only do good—assuming it’s accurate.
Heatwaves are arguably the most dangerous type of weather events. Between 1990 and 2019, heat has killed more people on average in the U.S. than any other type of weather, per NWS data. Researchers attributed 3,000 excess deaths to this past summer’s heat wave in the U.K. In 2021, a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest killed more than 100 people.
If Google’s new search widget spreads awareness and offers more accessible information to people about the dangers of heatwaves, then it could save lives.
However, the company announcement is a little misleading in at least one way. It frames these new features as part of a wider Google effort to combat the effects of climate change. “Together, these efforts will help people and communities around the world adapt to rising temperatures,” the company wrote in its press release. “We’ll continue to find new ways our technology and tools...that mitigate the effects of a changing climate for everyone.”
Yet Google is also a massive corporation complicit in climate change through greenwashing and financing. The company has funneled money to more than a dozen climate-denying groups in the past, according to a 2019 report. And Google’s much-touted plans to reduce its own greenhouse emissions also fall way short of promises, per a 2022 analysis.
Google will now tell you when its too hot out, and that’s cool. But don’t forget that the company has repeatedly stopped short of meaningfully combatting climate change and halting rising temperatures where it could.