Mapping Heat? Roanoke's Efforts to Identify the Hottest Parts of the City

Jul 13, 2020

It’s July – and that means it’s pretty hot outside. Cities especially can be even hotter than more rural areas. And the city of Roanoke is trying to find exactly where that happens within its limits.

It’s called the Urban Heat Island effect. Basically, cities are chock full of dark, manmade structures that tend to absorb energy from the sun – which heats up temperatures at the surface. That can be pretty dangerous during extreme heat events.

“I don’t think that a lot people realize that more people die from heat than from cold,” says Nell Boyle, Roanoke's Sustainability and Outreach Coordinator. “And more people are injured – and when I say that I mean become ill or sick from heat-related illnesses – than they do from all the natural disasters that occur.”

To help mitigate that, Boyle says volunteers will traverse the city three times one day in August equipped with special temperature instrumentation to collect the data and map out the most at-risk areas.

That information has a number of potential uses – including determining where trees that have a cooling effect should be planted. Or it could help identify residents that might not have access to air conditioning or proper insulation.

Boyle says there could also be health implications:

“We’re still working on what data is available for us to collect that could be overlapped over the maps," she explains. "So that we could kind of say, ‘Oh, here is this area and it’s extra hot. And oh wait, that’s an area with high poverty and it has higher number of COVID-19 or higher numbers of ambulance calls.’”

Roanoke received a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create the urban heat island map.