Skip to main content

Searching for climate and inequity hot spots, by car

Published on July 30, 2020

Children cool off at E.C. Hughes Park in Seattle, WA, July 2015.
Children cool off at E.C. Hughes Park in Seattle, WA, July 2015. Image Credit: Seattle Parks (CC BY 2.0)

Fifteen cars with blue snorkels jutting up from their passenger windows drove around King County on Monday, the hottest day the Seattle area has seen in 2020.

Volunteer drivers crisscrossed roads from Shoreline to Enumclaw. Their odd window attachments were used to record temperature and humidity measurements every second.

Shortly after sunrise, when the city’s official temperature was still a pleasant 63 degrees, they made their first rounds. They repeated their trips at 3 p.m., while the temperature soared past 91, and again at 7 p.m., when the day had still refused to cool below 91.

Those were only the official measures of the day’s heat. Actual temperatures that people experience vary from town-to-town and even neighborhood-to-neighborhood.

The drivers aimed to map real hot spots — places where vulnerable people may feel the brunt of heat the most as the world’s climate heads into new territory.

Areas dominated by pavement and other hard surfaces absorb and retain heat more than leafier locations.

Similar car-based studies in Tacoma and other cities have found that “redlined” neighborhoods—areas that mortgage lenders in decades past deemed too risky for loans because people of color lived there—are usually hotter in the summer than wealthier neighborhoods.

“Across 108 cities, those areas were 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than their counterpart areas,” said Portland State University urban planning professor Vivek Shandas.

“There is a very clear environmental justice dimension. This is a systematic pattern,” he said.

Seattle and King County hired Shandas’s consulting firm, CAPA Strategies, to help map the county’s urban heat islands.

University of Washington researchers Tania Busch Isaksen, Richard A. Fenske, Michael G. Yost (Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences), Elizabeth K. Hom (DEOHS and Epidemiology), You Ren, and Hilary Lyons (Statistics) say the hottest days already lead to more 911 calls, hospitalizations and deaths here. Their 2016 study found the risk of death rose 10% on Seattle’s hottest summer days.

Those health impacts are expected to worsen as the climate keeps heating up, globally and locally.


Continue reading at KUOW.

Originally written by John Ryan for KUOW.
Search by categories

Twitter Feed