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Researchers map heat inequities in Knoxville, finding higher temperatures in lower-income areas

It’s sweltering in East Tennessee, but it turns out some people in Knoxville’s lower-income communities feel the heat more.

Author: Jacinta Render (WBIR)

Published: 6:40 PM EDT June 15, 2022

Updated: 6:40 PM EDT June 15, 2022

Heat and your health, an upcoming study needs your help to see how much hotter Knoxville can get

An upcoming research project will monitor how much hotter the city is versus rural areas and the risks to your health.
Link to story here

By Heather Haley

Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 6:31 PM EDT

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) – Do you think it’s hotter or cooler at your house than the official temperature for Knoxville? This is important for your health, with a national research project coming down to the street level, and they need your help to collect the data.

Every day the WVLT First Alert Weather team forecasts for more than 30 counties in our area, but did you know the surfaces surrounding you can actually make a big difference in how hot it gets. By how much? Well, that’s what researchers want to know about Knoxville.

From science to public health, multiple departments at the University of Tennessee are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a “heat mapping campaign”. Knoxville is one of 14 cities chosen for this year, and Dr. Jennifer First is on the social work side of this project, and she said their goal is “so that we can map inequalities across the city, in terms of how individuals and communities are impacted by heat.”

This research will focus on Knoxville, because they want to know more about our “urban heat island”, which is a Meteorological term for how all the buildings and roads absorb and radiate the sun’s heat more than grassy areas outside of the city.

Emily Norris is a Summer Research Assistant with the University of Tennessee, and she said, “I think for Knoxville, it’s going to be interesting to see where the shade is having the most impact, and which areas are maintaining the most heat throughout the day.” They need volunteers to sign up to drive around town, and others to join them while navigating, with a sensor clipped on the vehicle that will pick up all the information they need. “A group helped us with points of interest in Knoxville, so we can make sure that our routes are specific to our city”, Emily said.

The date in August will be chosen later, so they pick the exact day based on a sunny forecast.

You could also lend your voice in a survey, as they try to identify other health risks. Dr. First said they need to know, “how they’re able to cool themselves, if they’re able to. What prevents them from cooling themselves, so energy burden is an important question that we want to ask about.”

From years past, cities use their heat island data to create plans for very hot days, and add safety measures in and around the city, such as cooling stations. “We think that this project will have an impact just for years to come in terms of what we’re seeing, our communities are warming, our climates are changing,” said Dr. First.

Heat is the number one weather-related killer, so this research will look at our environment to protect your health.

You can sign up and get more information on the Knoxville Heat Equity Coalition online. WVLT’s Chief Meteorologist Heather Haley will follow-up on the study in August, and the results that are expected a few weeks later.

Copyright 2022 WVLT. All rights reserved.

Extreme heat kills more Americans than any other weather event, but not everyone’s risk is the same. This summer, NOAA and community scientists will map the hottest parts of 14 U.S. cities and counties and, for the first time, two international cities.

“Extreme heat kills more Americans than any other weather event and has the greatest impact on our nation’s most vulnerable communities,” said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. “Fortunately, our talented and dedicated researchers and scientists at NOAA are working directly with communities across the country to help them take action to manage extreme heat. As climate change worsens heat waves, this critical information will help bring local and equitable solutions for those facing the greatest threats.”

“Our nation faces a climate crisis that has exacerbated inequities for low-income communities and communities of color,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “NOAA is helping communities measure their hottest places so that they can use this information to inform strategies to reduce the unhealthy and deadly effects of extreme heat and help us build a Climate Ready Nation.”

The NOAA Climate Program Office will work with the interagency National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) and CAPA Strategies, LLC offsite link to launch new community-led heat mapping campaigns this summer. Local teams will map what are called urban heat islands, areas that can be up to 20 degrees hotter than nearby neighborhoods.

The U.S. communities chosen for the program include Boulder, Colorado; Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Jacksonville, Florida; Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Montgomery County, Maryland; Omaha, Nebraska; Spokane, Washington; Philadelphia; Brooklyn, New York and San Francisco. In addition, NOAA is working with local groups in Africa and Brazil on international campaigns in Freetown, Sierra Leone and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Read the entire story here: