The campaign will work with local National Weather Service offices to determine when an intense summer heat wave will impact these specific cities, similar to what is happening in the West this week.
Redding does not normally average a maximum temperature of 100 degrees until the middle of July. However, the California town exceeded this temperature for at least three consecutive days this week (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) and this heat wave could persist through the end of the week.
However, several recent studies have found that extreme heat risks are not distributed equally across a city’s population.
“We find that the average person of color lives in a census tract with higher SUHI [surface urban heat island] intensity than non-Hispanic whites in all but 6 of the 175 largest urbanized areas in the continental United States,” the study said.
The study mentioned that this same pattern is found when comparing those in differing income brackets — households below the poverty line versus households at more than two times the poverty line.
However, heat-related deaths and illnesses, such as heat stroke and dehydration, can be avoided in many situations.
Mapping extreme heat
“Increasingly evident is the legacy of these historic policies in racial disparities in health care, access to healthy food, incarceration, resources allotted for schools, and public infrastructure investment such as the privileging of the suburban highway system at the expense of the city’s public transportation,” according to Climate.
“As climate change brings worsening heat waves, the information from these campaigns will help bring local and equitable solutions to those facing the greatest threat.” said Hunter Jones, Climate and Health Project Manager with NOAA’s Climate Program Office.
Armed with heat sensors mounted on their cars or bikes, volunteer citizen scientists traverse city neighborhoods during one of the warmest days of the year. Every second, the device measures temperature, humidity, time and the volunteer’s location. Measurements are taken in the morning, afternoon and evening to accurately capture the diurnal warming of a city.
The campaign has already mapped hot spots of various cities such as Los Angeles, Houston and New Orleans during previous summer heat waves. This summer, the campaign will be collecting data in cities where temperatures are warming faster than the national average, including San Francisco, Atlanta and Manhattan (New York City), to name a few.
Experts analyzing the urban heat island data have noticed correlations between the hottest neighborhoods and lower income, underserved communities of color.
Equipped with the important data from the urban heat island campaign, city planners can build immediate and future climate resilience into their development plans. Simple solutions can achieve big results, such as zoning more public green space, planting more trees to provide shade, whitewashing dark pavement or roofs, and providing access to additional public air-conditioned spaces.
The climate is changing, and cities are getting warmer
The current normals data set, which represent the average temperature for 1991 through 2020, highlight that most of the country has warmed, compared to normals for 1981 through 2010, except for the north-central US.
In most cases, cities bear the brunt of the hottest weather when compared to surrounding rural areas — due in part to the “urban heat island effect.”
Urban heat islands can impact a person’s quality of life by compromising health, increasing heat illnesses and increasing energy consumption by cooling homes and businesses using air conditioning. This can also have a domino effect of increasing the emission of air pollutants and heat trapping gases, which can lead to an increased risk of respiratory illnesses.
This urban heat island effect can be even worse at night, due to buildings, sidewalks, and roadways retaining their heat while more rural areas with more vegetation cool off faster.
This trend of rising temperatures, both during the day but especially at night, is concerning as the human body needs time to cool off and recover from extreme heat. If relief cannot be found, that is when heat-related illness begin to take hold, including heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and eventually heat stroke.