The Raleigh/Durham area is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the United States. The stress of this rapid growth compounds and multiplies the existing and increasing climate risk from extreme heat in Southeastern cities. With accelerated growth comes sprawl and urbanization.
We have seen a trend in the past two decades toward more days per year of extremely hot days. Hot days create physical stress for people and can be hazardous to the elderly, the very young, people with pre-existing medical conditions, and those who work outdoors. Hot days also impact those in urban core areas disproportionately. In addition to hot days, we are also experiencing increasing numbers of warm nights. Warm nights can be particularly hazardous for people without adequate cooling in their homes and cause additional stress on the body.
The first step in the process to address heat islands is to get specific data on the temperature variations across the geographic areas of the Raleigh and Durham area, which includes developed urban core areas. The population that is living in our heat islands are likely suffering from these negative health outcomes and heat related illnesses. There will also be benefits to addressing urban heat islands with addressing climate equity and community resilience. In our urban setting, hot days can be amplified by the lack of tree canopy cover and high levels of impervious surface, like roads which absorb and emit heat from the sun. The vulnerable communities are at greater risk for heat-related illness during times of intense and/or prolonged heat.
Heat is nothing new to the Southeast, but new challenges are arising in a warming climate. Our area already suffers from preventable hospitalizations and deaths every year from heat-related illness. Climate change will increase average daily maximum temperature, the number of days over 90 degrees, days over 95 degrees, days over 100 degrees, and days over 105 degrees over the coming decades. We face a future where perhaps fully a third of the year in our cities will be days where the temperature reaches at least 90 degrees. Similarly, the nighttime low temperatures and increasing, meaning there is less capacity to “cool-off” and more heat stress overall.
Extreme heat is a public health hazard. Each year, there are around 3,000 Emergency Room visits associated with heat-related illness and injury. There are also an average of 250 deaths per year in North Carolina attributable to extreme heat.
This project is committed to confronting the painful legacy of historical racist policy, which translates to this day as climate risk. Many Southeastern cities were segregated by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) through a process we now refer to as “Redlining”. This is the foundation upon which so much of our modern cities were built, and continues to influence and affect the ways that people live their lives today, including the amount of risk and vulnerability residents experience from climate-related phenomena like extreme heat.
The effects of extreme heat are disproportionately severe on these communities today. Low-income and previously redlined communities and neighborhoods are among the most vulnerable and least presently capable of mitigating the serious public health hazards associated with extreme heat.