Milwaukee joins cities nationwide to measure ‘urban heat island’ effect of climate change

On a 90-degree day this summer, volunteer citizen scientists with vehicle-attached weather sensors will spread across Milwaukee to measure air temperatures in the morning, afternoon and night.

“We’re going to look at the weather to try to find a good day to do the study,” Tim Halbach, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist, told Sullivan.

“A hot, dry, sunny day is best. The study will take place in July, which is climatologically our hottest time of the year.

The information collected will be used to develop strategies to cool the air in the city and mitigate the health effects of extreme heat events.

“We want to know how ambient air temperatures are distributed across the city of Milwaukee and that’s information that currently doesn’t exist,” said Dan Buckler, an urban forester with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, who helps to coordinate the sampling day in Milwaukee.

“We can understand, based on satellite imagery, where surface temperatures are highest, but not how air temperatures are distributed,” Buckler said.

Buckler said that while there can be a strong correlation between air and surface temperatures and measuring the heat of a road can be important information, surface temperature will not be an indication of this. that people feel in the air when they walk around on a hot summer day.

The information can be used to determine where to plant more trees and create more green infrastructure, lighten the color of impervious surfaces like roads and buildings to reflect heat or where to better locate cooling centers in Milwaukee, said Buckle.

“We expect higher temperatures where there are higher concentrations of asphalt, concrete and bitumen, those impermeable surfaces,” he said, adding, “we also expect higher temperatures. cooler where there are more trees and vegetation”.

Among the organizations working on the study this summer are the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewer District and the Milwaukee Health Department.

Groundwork Milwaukee, an agency that supports approximately 85 community gardens, promotes green infrastructure jobs, and works to promote climate-safe neighborhoods in Milwaukee, is also involved in collecting heat information.

Jess Haven, director of outreach and organizing for Groundwork Milwaukee, said the disproportionate impacts of searing heat on people are of interest to the organization.

“Who has to deal with the heat the most and what are the implications of that which are very different from other people who don’t have to deal with the heat,” she said. “It can be five, 10 or 20 degrees warmer in one block of Milwaukee than another.”

Haven said Groundwork Milwaukee hopes to use the findings to influence policy changes for residents vulnerable to extreme heat.

“A lot of homeowners have no incentive to insulate homes better to keep people cool. A lot of low-income people can’t afford air conditioning,” she said.

“There are cooling centers all over Milwaukee, but are they located close enough to where people live?” she asked.

“It will get worse as temperatures rise with climate change”

Extreme heat has been the deadliest weather-related death in the United States in decades. A Milwaukee primary care physician who is a member of Wisconsin Health Professionals For Climate Action, or WHPCA, said the extreme heat is especially difficult for people with pre-existing health conditions.

“Being in significant heat puts enough stress on your body that you’re much more likely to reach a tipping point where you go from being okay with your chronic medical condition to suddenly not being okay with it. agree,” said Dr Victoria Gillet. “Part of that is just the strain it puts on your body as your body has to adapt to the (heat) demands.”

The WHPCA is not involved in this summer’s air temperature study, but Gillet said she welcomes the results and any changes that will result in a reduction in extreme heat events in Milwaukee.

“Of any environmental exposure, it’s (extreme heat) the thing that’s most likely to kill you,” Gillet said. “Whatever is most likely to kill you in any setting is a matter of public health. This will get worse as temperatures rise with climate change.

During a few scorching days in mid-July 1995, dozens of Milwaukee residents and others in south-central Wisconsin died from the heat. The historic heat wave has been the subject of health studies by federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“That’s what I point out when I want to talk to people about a lack of preparation. These weren’t temperatures that Milwaukee had really experienced before and so people didn’t know the importance of staying cool, moving less and keeping medications in the refrigerator,” Gillet said.

“Another reason deaths were worse in Milwaukee than in outlying suburbs is the urban heat island effect. There’s so much heat-absorbing infrastructure that we’re trapping heat,” she said. added.

Milwaukee joins a growing list of cities across the country to measure the impact of extreme heat on urban areas. Over the past five years, 35 US cities have conducted similar studies to map urban heat islands. 14 other cities will study the heat this year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has partnered with CAPA Strategies, which analyzes the data and prepares a report for each city.

“In Honolulu, the resilience manager used the results of the campaign to develop a social vulnerability analysis and to inform tree planting. It’s been used by science museums in Boston and Richmond to develop public information events, and they’ve been used by schools in Virginia to educate students,” said Hunter Jones, risk program manager for extreme heat for the NOAA Climate Program Office.

“There are a number of different ways to apply the campaigns, but they’re really important for raising awareness and educating people about the risks of extreme heat,” Jones said.

DNR’s Buckler said the study will also help measure Lake Michigan’s impact on extreme heat in Milwaukee.

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