As the hit song goes, “Hot town, summer in the city …” You know the sweltering feeling – when heat radiates from the pavement, and kids seek relief in the spray from a fire hydrant.

It’s a phenomenon called the urban heat island effect. Heat from sunlight, exhaust, and industry gets absorbed in roofs, buildings, and streets – making cities several degrees hotter than areas nearby.

Virginia Hewitt, a researcher at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says as temperatures rise, so do smog and ozone concentrations.

Hewitt: “And that makes it harder for people to breathe, which is especially detrimental to people who are outside all the time, such as outdoor laborers or the homeless, and it’s also hard for people with cardiovascular diseases and children with asthma.”

Many cities are now implementing cool strategies to reduce the effect. In New York, residents are encouraged to paint their roofs a light color. Other cities are planting trees and replacing dark asphalt with grass. There are many benefits.

Hewitt: “Resilient infrastructure, lower energy costs, improved public health, and an increase in climate resiliency.”

And those results are pretty cool!

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Cool Policies for Cool Cities: Best Practices for Mitigating Urban Heat Islands in North America
Heat Island Effect, Cool Pavements
Earth’s Global Energy Budget
Number of Heat-Related Deaths, by Sex-National Vital Statistics System, United States, 1999-2010
EPA’s Science Corner (links to reports, research papers, and presentations on urban heat island)

Bud Ward

Bud Ward is Editor of Yale Climate Connections. He started his environmental journalism career in 1974. He later served as Assistant Director of the U.S. Congress's National Commission on Air Quality,...