Urban Heat and Climate Resilience: Beat the Heat!

As climate change is predicted to continue increasing global temperatures, the number of days of extreme heat and related weather phenomenon will likely increase. For instance, from June 28 through July 8 the east coast of the United States suffered the hottest heat wave on record, and these record high temperatures helped fuel the now infamous June 2012 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest “derecho.” According to NOAA, the resulting hurricane-force wind speeds caused at least 22 deaths, widespread damage, and over 3.4 million household power outages across the entire affected region.

Radar coverage of the June 2012 Mid-Atlantic and Midwest derecho. Figure courtesy of National Weather Service.

In the absence of any adaptation, heat-related illnesses and associated deaths will increase as temperatures rise. Fortunately, cities and communities are working to decrease the urban heat island effect and provide relief via heat emergency plans. In the United States, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative is helping ten states and cities develop ways to anticipate these health effects by applying climate science, predicting health impacts, and preparing flexible programs. For instance, the CDC is funding the New York State Department of Health to develop public health capacity and adaptations to reduce the human health effects of climate change in New York state.

Areas involved in the CDC Climate Ready States and Cities Initiative. Figure courtesy of CDC.

Outside the United States, other urban areas are similarly understanding and preparing for the heat. Paris’s EPICEA program seeks to quantify the impact of climate change across the city and the influence of buildings on the urban climate by studying an extreme climatic episode, that of the heat wave of fall 2003, to propose adaptation strategies. Toronto Public Health is implementing a map-based heat vulnerability assessment and decision support system to help battle heat-related illnesses. The UK has published a Heatwave Plan for England, and London Climate Change Partnership is conducting research and pursuing strategies to “Beat the Heat”.  After working to understand the problem, these groups employ a variety of short- and long-term adaptation techniques.

Short-term adaptation techniques to prepare for heat include providing health information and emergency response options. The Center for Disease Control maintains a website for Emergency Preparedness and Response for Extreme Heat. Staying cool and hydrating during hot weather can go a long way toward preventing heat-related illnesses. Similarly, the NYC Office of Emergency Management provides excellent information on heat emergencies, and provides tips for staying safe. Offices of Emergency Management in warmer states also provide detailed guidance (see for example Brownsville, TX).  Furthermore, many cities provide numerous emergency response options. For instance, in conjunction with the Red Cross, Toronto’s Heat Alert and Response System includes Emergency Cooling Centers.

Longer-term adaptation to combat urban heat issues can alter the environment to reduce local temperatures. CCAP’s The Value of Green Infrastructure for Urban Climate Adaptation and the EPA’s compendium of strategies on ways to reduce the urban heat island effect includes trees and vegetation, green roofs, cool roofs, cool pavements, and heat island reduction activities. Many of these ideas have been successfully implemented. For instance, Million Trees NYC and Million Trees LA both seek to plant and care for one million trees to, among other things, help reduce the urban heat island and provide shade during extreme heat events. These trees are carefully selected to include a range of various hardy species likely to survive future changes in temperatures and precipitation. Green roofs such as the Chicago City Hall green roof, have been shown to reduce roof temperatures by 70 degrees Fahrenheit (approximately 40 degrees Celsius).  NYC °Cool Roofs applies a reflective surface to a roof helps reduce cooling costs, cut energy usage and lower greenhouse gas emissions. New York City has already cooled almost 3 million square feet of rough space. Similarly, cool pavements are lighter in color, reducing their heat absorption. In addition to these greening techniques, the power sector also employs adaptation to prepare for increased peak demand during heat waves.

The CCAP Weathering Climate Risks program hopes you stay cool this summer as our blog continues to highlight best practices in corporate resilience and urban climate adaptation.

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