During heat waves, some Richmond neighborhoods get hit much harder than others

New research shows which neighborhoods get excessive heat
Published: Aug. 13, 2021 at 2:44 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - On hot summer days in Central Virginia we all feel the heat. But some neighborhoods get hotter than others.

It’s a magnified version of the Heat Island Effect - when cities are hotter than surrounding rural areas. Pavement, cars, air conditioning, buildings, and much more all contribute to localized heat, which can drive up temperatures in heavily populated areas.

It’s a well-researched topic, and the heat of cities can sometimes mean Richmond and other cities can make their own weather!

Climate Scientist Dr. Jeremy Hoffman from the Science Museum of Virginia is spearheading a project to find the hottest neighborhoods in town.

“We know in the big parking lots it can feel really oppressive. and we all enjoy going to a shady park to beat the heat. so what we’ve done is, why don’t we go any measure how big the difference is,” said Dr. Hoffman. “Thermometers hanging out of car windows and recruit volunteers from local organizations to particpate in heat mapping campaigns. We are collecting highly detailed data on temperature, humidity, and this year we did air quality as well.”

The data show that areas with more trees have lower temperatures in summer. Fewer trees? It’s hotter in your neighborhood.

“And these neighborhoods tend to be low income and communities of color. These neighborhoods tend to have fewer resources to adapt to those extreme heat events. fans, air conditioning, private backyard pools. They tend to rely more on transportation other than a car. so if they have to walk, bike take transportation, then they have to leave their house, walk through a hot neighborhood to a hot bus stop,” said Hoffman. “It’s a story that’s been unfolding right in front of us for nearly a century as redlining in the 30s, urban renewal, and the installation of the interstate highway system concentrated the impervious surfaces, which amplify heat into the communities that were already set aside as “you are not going to be invested in”

Dr. Hoffman says when can fight this disparity by increasing the tree canopy and investing in urban forestry so we can bring some natural air conditioning to the hottest neighborhoods.

“The geometry of the buildings, the width of the streets, has something to do with the extreme temperatures. we can use these data to rethink how we plan for our city to grow into the future to dampen heat extremes instead of amplifying them.”

It’s a lot, but Dr. Hoffman is hopeful we can begin to cool off the hottest areas as climate change is warming us all up in the background.

The Science museum is putting its money where the research is. Their main, 3-acre parking lot, which they use for visitors, will be gone soon - replaced with green space. That green space will serve as natural air conditioning for the neighborhood. Instead of parking there, you’ll park in this brand new parking deck. it’s state of the art, and it’ll contribute a whole lot less to the warming of this neighborhood.

For a link to Dr. Hoffman’s research, click here:

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