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Heat maps help plan cooling efforts

Can help direct efforts like more trees or cool pavement
Posted at 7:42 PM, Sep 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-11 22:42:38-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — We know pavement is hotter than parkland but governments are using maps of the hotspots to try to design cooler environments.

Most people understand the heat is not the same wherever you go. We used a laser thermometer to measure the temperature of a side road near Speedway and Kolb. It was 158.8 degrees Fahrenheit. An area of grass a few feet away measured 122.9 degrees.

Satellite heat maps expand that sort of observation to a big picture perspective of what we may feel as we move through the world that in Arizona often just ranges from hot, to really hot.

Maps from Pima Association of Governments express heat from hot yellow, orange and red to blue which indicates something relatively cool.

The maps shows the contrast between the hot parking lot at El Con Mall to the cooler, grassy areas of Randolph Park and University of Arizona.

Ladd Keith is a professor at University of Arizona’s Architecture school.He leads programs to help communities build their resilience to heat.

He says heat maps can guide planning to mitigate heat with more greenspace, less pavement and identify hot spots that are the result of neglected communities.

“And those are often lower income areas that have less vegetation. And historically minority areas, often marginalized areas too. And so when we think about doing investments to green cities, we want to make sure that those prioritize the areas of greatest need.”

Keith says planners working to mitigate heat have a variety of options.

“So urban greening as a popular one of course here in the southwest, we'd have to weigh that against our scarce water resources and think through the water use that it may take to grow some of these trees. Cool pavements are being explored to help reduce the contribution of roadways and our parking infrastructure to the heat island.”

Heat can go from discomfort, to deadly. A dashboard from the Pima County Medical Examinerlists 138 heat related deaths so far this year. Thirty seven were undocumented border crossers, 35 were homeless. But the other 66 were not in those categories.

And 39 percent of those deaths were indoors—speaking to the idea that some neighborhoods are not always able to protect people from dangerous heat.

Bill Neely says he’s used to the desert heat. He’s skeptical we can do much to stop it, but he does like the idea of using heat maps to try to build in ways that adapt to the heat.

“That seems like a good idea. I mean, like I said, I think more people should look to working in the evening instead of during the day. Because if you really look at it, you can get a lot more accomplished but people are used to working during the day and you get a lot more done at night.”