WDBJ7 Investigates: Organizations trying to find solutions for Urban Heat Island Effect in Roanoke

Published: Aug. 24, 2023 at 7:02 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - WDBJ7′s team of meteorologists issued a weather alert day for Friday, August 25th. That’s because we could see dangerously high temperatures for many of our hometowns. This week, WDBJ7 has been investigating how the Urban Heat Island Effect impacts communities here at home.

As heat waves ripple through the Star City, Virginia Tech Researcher Dr. Theo Lim says record-breaking temperatures are the new normal.

“Global climate change increases the frequency, duration, and the intensity of heat waves,” explained Lim. “We’re seeing the effects of Global climate change right now.”

In 2020, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) gave Roanoke City funding to study temperatures. The study found areas such as Northwest can be up to 15 degrees hotter than other parts. This is known as the Urban Heat Island Effect.

“The world is warming and specifically our urban centers are really warming quickly,” said Dr. Camron Johnson. “Faster than we would really like to see.”

Dr. Camron Johnson is a professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. She says the medical community is starting to see heat affect people’s health.

“Both including heat stroke but also with things like increased asthma, and allergies. We’re starting to see more cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure all because of increasing temperatures,” explained Dr. Johnson. “There’s also some mental health impacts into that as well as some pregnancy complications that we’re seeing with higher temperatures.”

That is why Carilion Clinic, Virginia Tech, the City of Roanoke, and Virginia Clinicians for Climate Change successfully applied for another NOAA grant. But this time to find potential solutions.

“What we’re doing as a group is going out and working with the community actually going into the different communities around the city of Roanoke and talking about what individuals can do to help decrease their risk of injury and illness related to heat,” added Johnson.

Johnson says you can protect yourself by staying hydrated throughout the day and using a wet rag to cool yourself.

“Kinda decreasing the amount of caffeine that people are taking because the caffeine will change the hydration status,” said Johnson. “Wearing light clothing goes a long way. So, a dark shirt vs. a lighter shirt will absorb the heat and your temperature will rise a little more.”

Using the grant, they’re teaching Roanoke City Public Schools students about the dangers of heat.

“I have learned that some places are hotter than others because there are more buildings and barely any trees,” said RCPS Middle School Student Aziza White.

While teaching the students, the experts are also getting insight into the very real impacts of our warming climate.

“We heard stories of a 12-year-old girl whose grandfather suffered a heat stroke in her home, and she was the one to call 911 when she recognized that that was happening,” said Lim. “We heard from another girl whose family pet their dog died of heat exhaustion in their home.”

School teachers say they want to empower kids to make a difference in their communities.

“They talk with their folks; they talk with their communities, and they’ve learned a couple of mitigating improvements some improvements that they could make to their community, and they could be an activist and vocal about hey we could do this to make our neighborhood cooler,” said RCPS Science Teacher Brian Kreppeneck.

Lim says an important piece to helping the communities most affected like Northwest Roanoke is by talking to them about first.

“The solution is not just about planting more trees in neighborhoods that don’t have trees although that is one of the causes of the Urban heat island effect,” said Lim “Because if the people there don’t believe that the solution has been developed with them than they don’t believe that the solutions for them.”

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