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Climate Change Intensifying Urban Heat Islands


By Greg Zimmerman Green
hot city urban heat island effect

Climate change is intensifying the urban heat island effect, according to a new report by Climate Central. The urban heat island effect is the phenomenon whereby cities, because of largest areas of asphalt and dark roofs that absorb heat, are several degrees warmer than the surrounding suburban areas.

This infographic from Climate Central allows users to click on a city and see the intensity of its urban heat island, contributing factors, and the average number of days with temperatures of more than 90 degrees relative to nearby urban areas.

The Climate Central study looked at the 60 most populous U.S. cities and found that since 1970, summers on average have been getting hotter across the board, but cities have been warming at a faster rate than adjacent rural areas. Over the past 10 years, Las Vegas has the highest urban heat island temperature, averaging 7.3 degrees warmer than surrounding areas. Las Vegas is followed by Albuquerque (5.9 degrees), Denver (4.9), and Portland, Ore. (4.8), Louisville (4.8), and Washington, D.C. (4.7). On average, the 60 cities studied were 2.4 degrees hotter than nearby rural areas.

The heat island effect issue affects both coasts and middle America, as well, and the trend is expected to get worse. But planting trees, using reflective roofs and pavement, and practicing generally smart urban planning can help mitigate the worst effects of urban heat islands.

This Quick Read was submitted by Greg Zimmerman, executive editor, Building Operating Management. Read his recent story about the new LEED v4.1 rating system.

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