Science Museum of Virginia-led study identifies extreme heat disparity in Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Have you ever noticed how much temperatures can vary over a small distance, especially in a city? This is due to the urban heat island effect.

How this phenomenon is impacting Richmond

While the urban heat island can be felt all year long, it’s even stronger in the summer months. This past summer, local volunteers, along with help from the Science Museum of Virginia, went and gathered temperatures across the city on one of the hottest days of the year. That information is back, and we now have a heat map of Richmond. So what did they find?

A 15 degree difference in temperatures within city limits. If you add in the effects of humidity…”it actually ends up being something like 20-25 degrees in what we would actually feel, say walking down the street,” says Science Museum’s Climate Scientist Dr. Jeremy Hoffman.

Why such an extreme difference in temperatures in just a few miles? It’s all due to the city’s urban heat island. Areas with buildings and a lot of pavement were generally warmest.

(click to enlarge photo)

According to the study results, Scotts Addition and areas along the Boulevard ended up being some of the warmest locations in Richmond. This is probably not surprising to many of you who have been to a ball game at The Diamond, or enjoyed a cold beer at one of the many breweries in that area.

On the flipside, “the James River Park System trails, and dogwood dell, this is right behind the Carillon, you can really see much much cooler temperatures,” Hoffman says.

Those were just a few areas that stood out in the city—but now that we have this information, what is the city doing with it?

They are already looking at the neighborhoods within the city that could most benefit from more cooling stations on dangerously hot days like this one in July. While trees will help, they may take years or even decades to grow a canopy large enough to help. But… adding things like reflective surfaces on rooves of new construction, or even native plants which absorb heat and hold onto water, can help in your own backyard.

“It’s providing that information that we didn’t have before, and using science to figure out something really really awesome for the city of Richmond.”

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