MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — It's been a scorching hot summer across the DMV.
Some areas naturally get hotter than others due to where they are located. Other areas have man-made influences that cause their temperatures to climb higher than locations around it. These areas are often called urban heat islands.
Urban heat islands are areas that have a high density of heat absorbing material and a low density of green space. This means these areas have a lot of concrete and asphalt and very little grass and trees. Areas considered to be heat islands become increasingly dangerous when extremely high temperatures are in the forecast.
Montgomery County is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) to collect data on heat across the county. Volunteers ‘street scientists’ attached a sensor to their car and drove around collecting temperature, humidity, time, and location data for a 200-square-mile area. The sensors were driven to and through places like Gaithersburg, Germantown, Rockville, Silver Spring, Fairland, and Olney.
WUSA9 Meteorologist Makayla Lucero spoke with Gretchen Goldman, assistant director for environmental science, engineering, policy, and justice at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Ken Graham, director of NOAA’s National Weather Service.
“This is such a huge opportunity for us to use science on the ground and do it in a way that is community driven,” said Goldman.
Armed with this new information on urban heat, the county can create new solutions to keep people even safer in extreme heat events. Safety is specifically a concern in low-income communities and communities of color, where people are impacted by heat at a disproportional rate. Scientists will also be able to better forecast extreme heat thanks to this data.
A practical application that Montgomery County hopes to see come out of this initiative is an increase in green space. This means planting more trees and grass.
“It’s not about reducing the temperature completely, right? It’s going to be tough to do that but if you can knock things down a couple of degrees, we’ll take it! That’s what it really is about.” Graham said.
The project is a step in the right direction to monitor the temperature and hopefully reduce it in the coming years.
“So, if we can make some small differences by looking at the maps and seeing those hot pockets, we’ll take it and do the small steps. If we all come together like this, that’s how we really get there.”
If you are interested in seeing the data that comes from this project, you can get more information at heat.gov.