New Data Reveals Neighborhoods Impacted by Urban Heat Island Effect
Data shows a 17.1 degree difference in temperature between hottest and coolest areas in Houston/Harris County
On August 7, 2020, the Houston Harris Heat Action Team (H3AT)—a collaboration between Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), the City of Houston, Harris County Public Health (HCPH), and The Nature Conservancy of Texas (TNC) - held a one-day urban heat island mapping effort with the help of 84 community scientists, and funding support from Lowe's and Shell. The effort was part of the 2020 Heat Watch program led by CAPA Strategies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and it resulted in a total of 320 square miles of Houston and Harris County being mapped by local residents. To collect the data, participants attached specially designed thermal sensors to their vehicles and traversed selected routes at three designated periods of time (6-7 AM, 3-4 PM, and 7-8 PM).
The data and results -- including a report, story map, and GIS mapping layers—are now available at www.H3AT.org. In addition to over 230,000 temperature and humidity measurements collected throughout the day, the project partners also leveraged satellite imagery to model temperature and heat index values - or “feels like” temperatures - across the study area.
The hottest point measured in Houston/Harris County on mapping day was 103.3 degrees Fahrenheit located just southwest of the Galleria on Richmond Avenue near the intersection of Chimney Rock Road. Compared to 86.2 degrees Fahrenheit located 20 miles to the east on Woodforest Blvd in Channelview, this data illustrates a 17.1-degree difference in temperature across Houston/Harris County at the same time of day. Afternoon heat index values (or “feels like” temperatures) were calculated from temperature and humidity measurements, reached unhealthy levels (above 108 degrees Fahrenheit) across Houston and Harris County.
“The data has identified Houston’s ‘hot spots’ and shows that some Houstonians are impacted by urban heat island effect more than others,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We will work with partners to target our cooling and health strategies toward these neighborhoods to better help Houstonians beat the heat.”
This urban heat island mapping campaign is included in Resilient Houston, the City’s comprehensive resilience strategy, as part of its commitment to making Houston neighborhoods greener and cooler. The results of this campaign can be used by the public and private sector in different ways to equitably reduce the impacts of urban heat, including (but not limited to):
- Better understanding heat-related health risks
- Coordinating tree planting, shade structures, and cooling centers
- Informing design of parks, streets, housing, and other built infrastructure
“Science shows that there is real potential to reshape our built environment and cool our cities down where it’s needed most,” said Suzanne Scott, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Texas. “And now, armed with this data, local planners, developers, and environmental groups like ours will be able to leverage smart, cooling urban design strategies that offer multiple benefits - including climate resilience - for all residents, both human and wildlife.”
“This collection of local, on-the-ground temperature and humidity measurements is unprecedented in resolution and scale,” said Lisa Gonzalez, President of HARC. “We look forward to continue working with the Houston Harris Heat Action Team and other partners to combine this data with other observations and models in ways that will help improve health impacts and resilience to heat.”
This project is part of a larger initiative, Heat Watch, led by CAPA Strategies and supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Program Office, who helped to fund the project. The Houston-Harris County team is one of 13 communities selected to participate in 2020 summer campaigns. For more info, visit CAPA Heat Watch.
City of Houston – Mayor’s Office of Resilience
The Mayor’s Chief Resilience Officer leads the city’s resilience efforts, including the development and implementation of the Resilient Houston strategy, launched in February 2020. Resilient Houston is focused on building resilience at every scale and is organized into five chapters, 18 goals and targets, and 62 actions. Each chapter identifies actions for increasing the resilience of Houstonians, neighborhoods, bayous, the city and the region. The vision for a more resilient Houston is a healthy place to live, an equitable, inclusive, and affordable city, a leader in climate adaptation, a city that builds up, not out, and a transformative economy that builds forward. For more information about Houston’s resilience program, visit https://www.houstontx.gov/mayor/chief-resilience-officer.html.
Harris County Public Health
Achieving national accreditation in 2018, Harris County Public Health is responsible for providing comprehensive public health services to Harris County residents. HCPH aims to improve the health and well-being of its residents and the communities where they live, learn, work, worship and play, using its cornerstone values of innovation, equity, and engagement. HCPH’s jurisdiction includes all the unincorporated areas of Harris County, while also providing public health services in some form to most of the 34 municipalities within Harris County, the largest of which is the City of Houston with 2.3 million people. In total, HCPH serves the 4.7 million residents in the county. To learn more visit https://publichealth.harriscountytx.gov/ and connect with us @hcphtx on Twitter and Instagram.
Houston Advanced Research Center
HARC is a research hub providing independent analysis on energy, air, and water issues to people seeking scientific answers. Its research activities support the implementation of policies and technologies that promote sustainability based on scientific principles. HARC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization building a sustainable future in which people thrive and nature flourishes. For further information, visit www.HARCresearch.org. You can also connect with us via Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. Like or follow @HARCresearch.
The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. In Texas and across the globe, we are conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale while mitigating and adapting to a changing climate. Since 1964, The Nature Conservancy in Texas has protected nearly one million acres of land, established 38 nature preserves and worked with state and federal agencies to create and expand state parks, national parks and wildlife refuges. These protected public lands include Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Caddo Lake State Park, and national wildlife refuges along the Texas Gulf Coast. Our freshwater program has protected more than 200 miles of stream and river habitat. To learn more, visit http://www.nature.org/Texas or follow @nature_tx on Twitter.