Scientists and volunteers are mapping Charlotte’s hot spots this summer

CHARLOTTE — As things heat up in Charlotte, scientists are hoping to use this summer to better understand where and when our city’s heat is at its worst.

Due to infrastructure and an uneven distribution of green space or shade, we already know some parts of our city suffer from what’s known as the urban heat island effect. It often happens when surfaces like concrete and buildings absorb heat, amplifying the impact of an already hot day.

Joe Wiswell, a graduate student at UNC Charlotte, has been studying the issue and he says other cities have shown temperature differences up to nine degrees within just a few miles.

“Especially on hot summer days, small differences in air temperature can have really important health implications for people,” he said.

He’s helping to organize the Charlotte Heat Mappers effort to track those hot spots down.

With the help of roughly 100 volunteers, the heat mappers will collect data in the morning, mid-afternoon and the evening. Volunteers will get a route to drive around the city and a sensor that goes on their car which will automatically collect temperature and location data as they go.

“It’s gonna be a big community science effort,” he said.

Once collected, the data will go off to NOAA, which will create maps of the city showing where Charlotte retains its heat.

The effort is part of a federal program to understand heat across the country. Back in 2021, Raleigh and Durham took part in their own heat mapping study.

According to state climatologist Kathie Dello, those findings showed significant differences in more affluent areas of the cities and neighborhoods that have historically not seen a lot of investment.

“These are often the places that are the least desirable to live often because of their climate hazards and other environmental hazards,” she said.

The differences in temperature are also starkest at night. While the temperatures are highest during the day, all of that absorbed heat in the heat islands means the heat sticks around when the sun went down. Other areas were able to get some relief.

“It’s really tough to sleep and it can make people sick,” Dello said.

Excessive heat is associated with cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, as well as heat stroke, exhaustion, and other acute effects.

Dello said climate change will exacerbate the issue, not only because our hot summer days are trending warmer, but particularly because our summer nights are warming even quicker.

“We’re seeing our daytimes warm up too but not necessarily blockbuster, record-breaking temperatures,” she said. “Our minimum temperatures have been consistently above average for the past ten years.”

Dello said these mapping efforts show where heat mitigation is most necessary. Raleigh and Durham have already targeted neighborhoods for things like strategic tree planting, green infrastructure, and cooling shelters on the hottest days.

Charlotte Heat Mappers hope their efforts provoke similar interventions.

Charlotte has not yet set a date for data collection, but the heat mappers are targeting the second and third weekends of July.

Anyone interested in volunteering can sign up here.

(VIDEO: ‘Offset the heat islands’: Finding Charlotte’s hottest spots)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.

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