Areas once marked in red are now often urban heat islands

Heat is typically the leading cause of weather-related death in the United States, but depending on the neighborhood, some townspeople experience cooler and more manageable temperatures than others.

Why is this important: All cities trap heat, with their dark-colored asphalt and energy-absorbing buildings – a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect. However, within these heat islands, some areas are constantly warmer.

  • These are often the same neighborhoods marked in red where historically banks have refused to take out mortgages and loans and insurance companies have refused coverage because of race and ethnicity, Jeremy told Axios Hoffman, climatologist at the Science Museum of Virginia.

Driving the news: When a heat wave hit the Pacific Northwest in June, killing perhaps more than 600 people, people in Portland and Seattle were suffocated by triple-digit temperatures.

  • The richer areas had more shade to protect people from the sun and prevent solar radiation from reaching dark sidewalks, keeping those areas cooler. It may have made the difference between life and death, especially because it lowered temperatures at night and allowed people to recover.
  • With global warming leading to more intense and frequent heat waves, it is increasingly urgent for scientists and policy makers to address disparities in heat exposure within communities.

The big picture: Researchers using grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mapped urban heat islands in dozens of major US cities and found that the effects of redlining stand out.

  • Poorer neighborhoods with more Black, Latino, Asian, or Native American residents tend to have fewer trees and parks, as well as fewer neighborhood interventions to reduce temperatures outside and inside. houses, like white and green roof projects.

Details: A study published last year in Climate found that land surface temperatures in areas formerly marked in red are about 2.6 ° C, or 4.7 ° F, warmer than other places in the same towns.

  • “People who live in these areas have a very different day-to-day environmental experience than people living in the same towns a few blocks away,” says Hoffman.

How it works: Portland State University professor Vivek Shandas sees the heat as an “insidious problem of climate justice.” He says heat exposure has been “pre-baked” in communities due to legacy policies on infrastructure, housing and health care.

Between the lines: Jane Gilbert is the chief heat manager for any metropolitan area in the United States. She serves Miami-Dade County, Florida, which includes the city of Miami, and has looked at differences in heat exposure there.

  • In a trend due in large part to man-made climate change, since 1970 Miami has seen a 79-day increase in the number of days each year with temperatures above 90 ° F, according to data from the Science and Journalists Group at Climate Central nonprofit. .
  • Gilbert says the heat threat that keeps her awake at night is a large-scale power outage or a prolonged power outage following a hurricane.
  • Concrete example : The heat turned deadly this year in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida.

And after: Miami-Dade County is looking for ways to address heat exposure disparities within communities.

  • Gilbert says she is working with the National Weather Service to try to lower their thresholds for issuing heat alerts that trigger things like opening cooling shelters.
  • The urban heat island effect means that some neighborhoods exceed the warning criteria on days when no warning is issued, Gilbert explains, mainly because the temperature at official measuring stations is cooler.
  • Miami-Dade County is working to increase the canopy of trees in poorer neighborhoods to provide more shade, and they are also pursuing weatherization and other efficiency improvements to reduce water consumption. energy at home. It’s part of an effort to allow more residents to purchase air conditioning.
  • In addition, the county is training responders to monitor vulnerable residents during heat waves.
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