Tag Archives: extreme heat

Chicago Marks a Deadly Anniversary

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the deadly heatwave in Chicago, IL, which killed an estimated 739 people and showed that even in northern climates, urban heat kills.  Our world was already warming in 1995, but 20 years ago this northern city wasn’t used to these extreme heat events and many Chicago residents didn’t have air conditioning units in their homes or apartments.  Most of the victims of this extreme heat were either the very young, or elderly people living in poor neighborhoods, too afraid of crime to open windows or sleep outside.

As this article containing first-hand accounts from the key players reports, the residents, city officials and first responders were ill-prepared for such a deadly natural disaster twenty years ago.  City officials were slow to respond.  First responders and hospitals were understaffed and unable to help residents survive the extreme heat.  And residents failed to listen when heat advisories were finally issued.  Heat like this wasn’t supposed to hit a northern city like Chicago after all, and hundreds of people paid the price.

City officials quickly began to look at ways to bring down city temperatures after that tragic heat wave. Chicago was one of the first cities to require the deployment of cool roofing technology.  Their 2001 Urban Heat Island Ordinance wrote cool (green, solar & white) roofs into law, and they’ve been building on that ever since.

This new ordinance is paying off.   Yale researchers reviewedthe changes between 1995 and 2009 in Chicago’s vegetated and reflective surfaces. Researchers found that where reflectivity increased, temperatures went down. Most of the reflectivity increases in Chicago that brought down temperatures were a result of the new reflective roofs that were installed because of the new energy efficiency zoning codes in this northern climate.

Over the past 20 years, deadly heatwaves have hit cities all over the world. In one major disaster, 70,000 people lost their lives in Europe’s 2003 heat wave. Each year, heat records are shattered globally. According to NOAA, 2014 was the 18th straight year where average temperatures have topped 20th century averages in the United States. It was also the hottest year on record. NOAA just released data on the first half of this year showing that 2015 is on track to blow past last year’s records.  These heat-waves are here to stay and are expected to get worse, and city officials everywhere are a beginning to understand the urgent need to adapt in order to protect their residents.

While these first-hand accounts of past heat-related disasters show us how far we’ve come in the past 20 years, it also shows us how important it is to plan for future heat events as our world grows ever-warmer. Research shows that reflective surfaces help bring down urban temperatures and save lives – even in northern cities like Chicago. That’s why city officials around the world are working with GCCA to adapt their cities to our changing climate.

GCCA has released several studies showing how reflective surfaces and cool roofs can save lives. For further information, please follow these links:

Evaluating the Health Benefits of Urban Cooling – GCCA worked with a top team of researchers to study how cool surfaces and vegetation save lives during extreme heat events in Baltimore, Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington.

Assessing the Health Impacts of Urban Heat Island Strategies in the District of Columbia – GCCA finds that cooler surfaces and more green space can save lives during heat waves in Washington, DC.

To learn how cities are working to bring down urban temperatures, please take a look at this report:

Urban Heat Island Policy Survey – GCCA and ACEEE survey 26 cities to learn how they are addressing excess urban heat.

For further information, please visit our Cool Roofs and Cool Pavement Toolkit knowledgebase, where we have over 600 studies, reports and surveys.

Cool Roofs Save Lives During Global Killer Heat Waves

NOAA has been tracking rising temperatures around the world and it seems each month we see new reports of record setting heat. According to NOAA records, May was the hottest year on record, and it looks like 2015 is on track to beat last year for overall temperatures. Extreme heat events are happening all over the world and this heat is killing thousands. Take a look at a weather map of this global heat wave…

[image of Summer 2015 heatwave India]

In Australia, a heat-wave killed 374 people earlier this year. Doctors see this a public health emergency, and are calling for climate action to head off this silent killer.

In India, the heat was so bad the roads were literally melting, with temperatures reaching 118 Fahrenheit in some areas. India’s Earth Sciences Minister – Harsh Vardhan – has blamed climate change for a heatwave that killed 2,500 people in late May and early June.

“Let us not fool ourselves that there is no connection between the unusual number of deaths from the ongoing heat wave… It’s not just an unusually hot summer, it is climate change”

[image of Heatwave India 2015]

In Pakistan, over 65,000 people have suffered heat stroke in a recent heatwave – which has killed over 1,200 people. Peak temperatures have reached 48 degrees Celsius / 118 degrees Fahrenheit.

People are starting to understand how low-cost solutions like cool surfaces are saving lives. Especially in the developing world. The life-saving benefits of cool and white roofs are discussed in this Mashable article about the heat waves in Pakistan and India…

“You don’t necessarily need a complicated solution,” Jaiswal said. She pointed to Sherdaben General Hospital in Ahmedabad, a hospital which serves a slum community, as an example where a low-tech, low-cost solution saved many lives.

The hospital had a black tar roof, which increased the building’s temperatures. Further, the neonatal ward was on the highest floor, meaning that many mothers and their newborns were put at greater risk of heat-related illnesses.

The solution? The hospital installed a white roof, which lowered the internal temperature of the building significantly, and the staff also moved the neonatal ward to a lower floor.”

Heatwaves are also hitting the Southeast United States, Alaska, Israel and Japan igniting wildfires and sending hundreds to the hospital, according to this article in EcoWatch. Temperatures average 5 – 15 degrees higher than normal with some areas hitting 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Extreme heat and record-setting temperatures as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit triggered wildfires in the Northwest United States.

Meanwhile, a potentially record-setting heatwave is projected for Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany at the end of June.

These extreme heat events will only become more frequent and more deadly. According to a new report by the British medical journal, The Lancet, more people will be exposed to heat waves and other extreme weather linked to climate change over the next century. From The New York Times

“By the end of the century, the report estimates, the exposure to heat waves each year for older people around the world is expected to be around 3 billion more cases than in 1990.”

Extreme heat is the silent killer – the most deadly of natural disasters, and GCCA has collected data and produced reports detailing how cool surfaces can save lives as our planet warms. For additional information, please read our reports:

Assessing the Health Impacts of Urban Heat Island Strategies in the District of Columbia
Health Impacts of Urban Cooling Strategies in Baltimore, Los Angeles and New York City

Lead IPCC Author Warns of Extreme Heat Waves

National Public Radio’s Rachel Martin spoke recently with Michael Oppenheimer, the coordinating lead author of the synthesis report of the IPCC’s Fifth Climate Assessment.  During the interview, Oppenheimer noted that the urban heat island effect will become more of a threat in the years to come, warning that heat waves will become more frequent and more extreme…

MARTIN:  Up to this point, it’s been hard to pin down where the effects of climate change are going to be most profound.  Does this report tell us anything about specific places in the world that are especially at risk?

OPPENHEIMER: Well, I would first point to three types of places…

The third area I point to which effects people particularly in cities anywhere in the United States, which already have an urban heat island effect – well, I’d point to the extra frequency with which we’re getting already and are going to get more in the future – heat waves.  In Europe in 2003, about 40,000 people died in the heat wave.  We just can’t afford to have that risk increasing over time.  We’ve got to get on top of our missions or else it’s going to get out of control.

Oppenheimer closed by noting that we’re making progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but that we’re not moving fast enough.  He described this report as a wake-up call to governments, noting that the opportunity to avoid a dangerous warming is disappearing.   The time to act is now.

You can listen to the full interview here.

Quarter-hourly real time monitoring of urban temperatures from Space

Real time monitoring of the diurnal variations in the distribution of the land surface temperatures (LST) across a city is significant to a range of issues, including heat wave risk, energy demand and heat-related health issues. Geostationary satellites, such as Meteosat Second Generation- Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager (MSG-SEVIRI) viewing Europe, Africa and a part of S. America, are the only remote sensing platforms that can offer continuous monitoring of LST distribution at quarter-hourly basis. The high temporal resolution of many meteorological geostationary satellites is unparalleled for the diurnal study of the Surface Urban Heat Island (SUHI) phenomenon, since it can reveal the most subtle changes. However, their coarse spatial resolution of 3-5 km has prohibited their extensive use for urban studies. The only way to exploit the dataset from this monitoring platform for urban applications is to employ computational methods for sharpening the data down to 1 km or better.

A system for real time and online monitoring of the thermal urban environment using geostationary satellite images is being developed at the Institute for Astronomy, Astrophysics, Space Applications and Remote Sensing of the National Observatory of Athens (IAASARS/NOA) in Greece. The system comprises separate modules, namely: satellite image acquisition, cloud screening, and sharpening of LST. Satellite images are acquired from MSG-SEVIRI EUMETCast station installed at IAASARS/NOA. The cloud screening delineates the cloud-free pixels allowing the LST derivation to be applied only to clear sky thermal infrared radiances. Lastly, LST imagery is downscaled down to 1 km spatial resolution using Support Vector Regression Machines (SVM) and iterative gradient boosting.

The summer months of 2014 were the first operational ones: our system produced thousands of sharpened LST images every quarter-hour in real time. Our vision is to develop the system for all the cities with population greater than 1 million in the SEVIRI disk (117 cities in total). The system can be potentially used for heat-related health issues, energy demand applications, urban planning, Urban Heat Island studies and more.

A short video of what we do: http://youtu.be/pCMUHi7FJiY

Are you interested in collaborations? Let us know!

Dr. Iphigenia Keramitsoglou is a Senior Researcher at IAASARS/NOA and co-Leader of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) Global Urban Observation and Information Task. She is member of the Program Management Board of BEYOND project that is partly financing this activity.

Record Breaking Heatwave Hits Australia

It’s springtime in the Outback and things are heating up in Australia.  Summer doesn’t begin until December, but record temperatures have already been set at 20 stations throughout the country recently, topping out at 108.6 F in the town of St. George.  Heatwaves are hitting earlier and lasting longer than usual.  Climate Progress has the story…

A spokesman from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology told the Sydney Morning Herald that the heat wave was significant not just for its high temperatures, but for its duration. Wanaaring, Australia set a record of eight days of 95°F temperatures, a stretch of time that beats the town’s previous record of seven days in 1997. Broken Hill, Australia also experienced a longer stretch of October heat than usual: five days of 95°F or higher weather, up from the town’s previous October record of three days in a row.

Rob Sharpe, a meteorologist at Weatherzone, told the Herald that this heat wave was the “first big heat event of the warming season.” But Australia has been no stranger to heat waves in recent years. Last year was Australia’s hottest ever recorded, with an average annual temperature of 73.4°F — 2.16°F higher than the average for 1961-1990.  The country also started 2014 with extreme temperatures, in a heatwave that began in 2013 and continued into the new year: in early January, parts of Australia reached 122°F, with some reports of temperatures as high as 129°F.  This year, southeastern Australia also endured a record-breaking fall heat wave, with May temperatures up to 9°F higher than usual.

Imagine hitting 108 F in early May here in the northern hemisphere (Washington, DC) … it looks as if Australia’s in for a long hot summer.  Maybe they should consider reworking their building codes to incentivize or even require cool roofs & reflective pavements.  Stay tuned.

Study Links Climate Change to Hotter Urban Heat Islands

Cities are hot and getting hotter, thanks to global warming and the urban heat island effect.  With urbanization on the rise globally, extreme heat threatens human health, strains energy grids, and impacts global economies around the world.

Extreme heat is now ranked as the number one weather-related killer in the United States.  With over eighty percent of Americans now living in cities, urban heat islands and record high temperatures could cause serious health problems for hundreds of millions of people during the hottest months of the year.

Climate Central just released an analysis of government records for summer temperatures in 60 U.S. cities (1970 to date).  This study found that single-day heat island differences reached 27 degrees F in some cities, and that since 2004, at least 12 cities experienced 20 additional days a year above 90°F than surrounding rural areas.

This study also ranks the top ten urban heat islands in the United States.  Washington, DC ranks number 6 on this hit parade of urban heat.

Climate Central has prepared a useful interactive tool to help you learn more.

You can read more about the study here.

You can also read GCCA studies on heat health problems in Washington DC, and learn about strategies to lower urban temperatures and save lives.

And the Heat Goes on – Another Deadly Heat Wave Hits Japan

Barely a year after extreme heat killed 17 and sent more than 9,800 people to the hospital, Japan has been hit with another heat wave.  This most recent extreme heat event killed 11 and sent 1,900 to hospitals, and broke heat records in 14 Japanese cities.

Other cities around the world have also been hit with recent heat waves…

On Thursday, Phoenix, Arizona set a record of 116°F.  In other parts of the state, temperatures were even higher — Yuma reached 117 °F, tying a record high for the date, and Tacna reached 120°.

“We have not dropped below the 90 degree mark since Tuesday morning, if you can believe that,” Matt Pace of Phoenix’s NBC 12 News said Thursday.

Last month, temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit led to increased demand for energy, power and water outages, andriots in India.

Heat waves are hitting communities earlier, longer and with higher temperatures every year.  We expect to see 100 degree days in July or August, but California, Texas and Kansas were already suffering with temperatures topping 100 degrees by late April and early May of this year.

Extreme heat is becoming more deadly.  It causes more deaths in the U.S. each year than all other natural disasters combined.  And it will only get worse.  Forecasters in London warn that heat waves capable of killing hundreds and melting roads are likely to become the new normal by 2040.

This extreme heat can be especially deadly for the very young, the elderly, and for people living in buildings without air conditioning.  As these heatwaves move into regions unaccustomed to extreme heat events, more people will be exposed to this kind of deadly heat without any way of escaping.

These recent heat waves are a reminder of the need to use every tool available to us in bringing down urban heat.  To learn more about simple and inexpensive climate mitigation strategies, read GCCA’s primer – A Practical Guide to Cool Roofs and Cool Pavements.

Cities Now Contain Over Half the World’s Population

Hot summer days can often be sticky and miserable in an urban heat island.  Dark surfaces, lack of shade trees and climate-driven heat events mean higher summer temperatures and prolonged heat waves.  Add to that the growing population in many of the world’s mega-cities, and winter weather is looking better and better!

The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division just released their World Urbanization Prospects report for 2014.  Over half the world’s population are now living in urban settings.  Some of the reports key facts:

Globally, more people live in urban areas than in rural areas, with 54 per cent of the world’s population residing in urban areas in 2014. In 1950, 30 per cent of the world’s population was urban, and by 2050, 66 per cent of the world’s population is projected to be urban.

Today, the most urbanized regions include Northern America (82 per cent living in urban areas in 2014), Latin America and the Caribbean (80 per cent), and Europe (73 per cent). In contrast, Africa and Asia remain mostly rural, with 40 and 48 percent of their respective populations living in urban areas. All regions are expected to urbanize further over the coming decades. Africa and Asia are urbanizing faster than the other regions and are projected to become 56 and 64 per cent urban, respectively, by 2050.

Close to half of the world’s urban dwellers reside in relatively small settlements of less than 500,000 inhabitants, while only around one in eight live in the 28 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants.

Combine these population trends with rising world temperatures, and it’s clear that urban heat island mitigation is becoming more and more urgent.

June Temperatures Set New Records

Many of you might have seen reports that May was another record-setting month for world temperatures.  Well NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDA) has just released their data for June, 2014, and it’s the latest evidence that climate change means climbing temperatures.  According to theirGlobal Analysis report:

June 2014 also marks the second consecutive month with record high global temperatures. With the exception of February (21st warmest), every month to date in 2014 has ranked among the four warmest for its respective month. Additionally, June 2014 marked the 38th consecutive June and 352nd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

Stay tuned to see what NCDA has to say about July’s temperatures.  Meanwhile, stay cool.

Adapting to a Changing World

Our changing climate is impacting our lives.  From extreme heat to more severe storms, from droughts, famine and epidemics to wildfires and floods, we’re quickly learning that if we don’t mitigate and adapt, we’ll continue to pay the price.

According to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization, from 1970 to 2012, 8,835 disasters, 1.94 million deaths, and $2.4 trillion of economic losses were reported globally as a result of natural disasters such as droughts, extreme temperatures, floods, tropical cyclones and related health epidemics.  And as temperatures rise and more people move into more urban settings, these natural disasters are becoming more extreme and more deadly.

In the 1980s, droughts were among the world’s deadliest natural disasters.  Crop failures led to famine which caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Northern Africa alone.  Thanks to new farming techniques, early warning systems, and better food distribution systems, droughts are killing fewer people around the world (adaptation works!).  But now another natural disaster is moving into the top spot: extreme heat.

From Brad Plumer at Vox.com:

But as droughts have become less deadly, heat waves seem to have become more so.  The WMO reports that heat waves were particularly lethal in the last decade, killing 72,000 people in Europe in 2003 and 55,000 people in Russia in 2010.

Here too, though, efforts are already underway to adapt.  In Europe, for instance, researchers have noted that many of the deaths in the 2003 heat wave occurred among the elderly with weak social networks and poor health care. (The heat wave followed right on the heels of a nasty flu outbreak.)  Better public-health infrastructure and monitoring might help here.

Likewise, scientists have observed that the urban heat island effect tends to exacerbate heat waves.  Because of all the buildings and cars and black pavement, cities tend to be even hotter than their surroundings. But there are ways to mitigate that.  One study found, for instance, that introducing more green spaces into a city could reduce the need for medical assistance during scorching heat waves by 50 percent.

Adapting to our changing world and bringing down urban temperatures will be more important as temperatures steadily continue to climb.  According to the latest data from NOAA, this June was the 38th consecutive June and 352nd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.  This problem is not going away without determined mitigation action.

Meanwhile, to help communities deal with the health problems caused by climate-driven hazards, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have put together a new set of guidelines.   Their recent report, “Assessing Health Vulnerability to Climate Change,” will help health departments identify their communities’ specific climate change-related health vulnerabilities.   It also provides guidance in the development of specific strategies to mitigate the health impacts of climate change.  The guide provides a five-step assessment process:

Determine the scope of the climate vulnerability assessment.

For these health outcomes, identify the known risk factors (e.g., socioeconomic factors, environmental factors, infrastructure, pre-existing health conditions).

Acquire information on health outcomes and associated risk factors at the smallest possible administrative unit.

Assess adaptive capacity in terms of the system’s ability to reduce hazardous exposure and cope with the health consequences resulting from the exposure.

Combine this information in a Geographic Information System (GIS) to identify communities and places that are vulnerable to disease or injury linked to the climate-related exposure.