What is ‘urban heat island’ effect and how does it impact low-income populations

Weather Blog

The sun sets behind power lines in Los Angeles, California on September 3, 2020, ahead of a heatwave to arrive September 4 through the Labour Day weekend prompting a statewide flex alert. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

(KXAN) — In an attempt to better understand the disproportionate impact that heat has on low-income communities, NOAA is renewing their campaign to study changing temperatures within a city.

The “urban heat island effect” broadly describes cities being warmer than surrounding rural areas, but more specifically it means that darker, paved surfaces absorb more heat than more natural surroundings.

The more roads and buildings you have, the more heat is absorbed and the hotter the temperatures are. The “greener” your surroundings, the less heat is absorbed and the cooler the conditions.

On Wednesday, NOAA announced that its National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) will renew its community-led campaign to figure out what parts of cities are the hottest or the coolest.

The study works using heat sensors attached to the bikes or cars of community volunteers. On some of the hottest days of the year, the volunteers will bike or drive their way around a neighborhood within the city and the sensors will record temperature, humidity, time and location. Within a city, the temperature may vary as much as 20 degrees.

That data will then get recorded and used to map the heat of the city and understand which areas are most impacted by heat.

recent nationwide study found that 94% of formerly redlined areas, which remain mostly lower income communities of color, are exposed to higher temperatures than non-redlined, affluent areas. This is because these lower income communities typically lack green space and suffer most from urban heat islands.

The campaign this year will be in 11 states across the country during the summer.

The communities include Albuquerque, New Mexico; Atlanta; New York City; Charleston, South Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Raleigh & Durham, North Carolina; San Diego; San Francisco; and parts of New Jersey, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Virginia. 

Here in Texas, the city of Houston had previously been studied and heat maps created. Those maps were then incorporated into the city’s Climate Action Plan.

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