DC’s “Heat Islands” Explained: Why It Is Much Hotter In Some Parts Of The City


As temperatures in the DC area have risen this week, some parts of the district may be warmer than others as the city has several urban heat islands, according to an expert.

As temperatures in the DC area have risen this week, some parts of the district may be warmer than others as the city has several urban heat islands, according to an expert.

Yesim Sayin Taylor, executive director of the DC Policy Center, said urban heat islands are areas of a city where temperatures exceed what is reported on any given day. So, on Tuesday, when temperatures were in the mid to high 90s, parts of the city like Rock Creek Park were actually in the 70s, Taylor said.

And on the contrary, there are other parts of the city where temperatures have likely reached 100 degrees, Taylor said. Research on these fluctuations is used to ensure the protection of the most vulnerable people during a heat wave.

“Research shows that people tend to be more affected by a heat wave if they have low income, are below the poverty line, or have no insurance,” said Taylor. “These things are correlated with each other and explain some of the reactions of residents to heat waves, especially the elderly, they don’t always understand what a heat wave can do to them.”

Temperatures in the northeast, downtown, and in wards 7 and 8 tend to be very hot, Taylor said, but temperature isn’t the only variable to consider. A lack of trees and impermeable surfaces also contributes.

Data from the DC Policy Center shows that on August 17, 2015 at around 3 p.m., for example, the city recorded an official temperature of 93 degrees. However, at Rock Creek Park it was as low as 76 degrees. Neighborhoods like Ivy City, Trinidad and Navy Yard posted temperatures above 100 degrees.

Taylor said that while temperatures across the city can vary widely, the city’s cooling centers have been strategically placed to accommodate the variation. DC cooling centers open when temperatures reach 95 degrees.

“There are other parts of town where there is nothing going on at street level,” Taylor said. “If you walk to the bus stop, there’s nowhere you can get in to avoid the heat or cool off for a few minutes. This is why it is important to take into account the characteristics of the neighborhood, not just the number of degrees.

The heat index in DC is expected to exceed 100 on Wednesday as a heat wave is also sweeping through the Pacific Northwest. Ben Zaitchik, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins, said that the fact that extreme temperatures appeared in June rather than July and August is “extraordinarily unusual”.

He said the heat wave should make people think about the impact the weather might have on their lives in the future.

“The DC zone is no stranger to the heat,” he said. “Many of our adaptations are already underway. We have a lot of air conditioning penetrations, cities know how to set up cooling centers, but really thinking about how we’re going to handle that, because [heat waves] are becoming more frequent and what that will mean for role models, for life decisions or for work arrangements.

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