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Exploring how the way we live influences climate change and its impact across the Carolinas. You also can read additional national and international climate news.

Charlotte selected to join federal study to find urban heat islands

Two maps that show how Charlotte will join 13 other US communities and four international cities to map urban heat islands this summer.
Charlotte will join 13 other U.S. communities and four international cities to map urban heat islands this summer.

This summer, Charlotte residents can help map local hot spots by affixing heat sensors to their cars. Charlotte Heat Mappers, a group of experts and research groups, are receiving $25,000 in equipment and resources from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to collect this data.

“Essentially, it becomes a benchmark,” said Douglas Shoemaker, director of research and outreach at the UNC Charlotte Center for Applied GIS. “It becomes a line in the sand that [says] in 2024, this is where we found these heat islands.”

Don't miss WFAE's 2024 Carolinas Climate Summit on April 18. We have an exciting lineup of speakers who will address the impact of climate change on the Carolinas; climate and environmental justice; solutions; individual action; and other key issues that are shaping our region.

Heat islands form as roads, sidewalks and buildings absorb heat throughout the day.

“All that heat that is absorbed over the course of the day or over the preceding days and weeks slowly gets released,” Shoemaker said.

This keeps heat islands warm overnight when most communities get a reprieve from the daily high temperatures. The NOAA rated extreme heat as the top weather-related cause of death in the U.S. for the last three decades.

For communities without much tree canopy, that excess heat adds up. Many historically marginalized communities lack the kind of lush shade you’ll find along places like Queens Road, and it adds up in health care costs and cooling costs. The heat also takes a heavy mental toll.

Graphic showing where heat concentrates in Charlotte.
Climate Central
How does heat in your neighborhood compare?

In 2023, heat contributed to 3,925 emergency room visits statewide, most of which occurred in the Piedmont. Still, there are many unanswered questions about how heat is impacting our everyday lives.

“I can tell you all about the financial impacts of losing carbon, of cleaning water, of cleaning air of biodiversity,” Shoemaker said. “I cannot tell you the cost of urban heat.”

As the planet continues to warm, climate data like this heat snapshot will determine how the city and other local entities allocate resources to help the most vulnerable members of our communities.

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Zachary Turner is a climate reporter and author of the WFAE Climate News newsletter. He freelanced for radio and digital print, reporting on environmental issues in North Carolina.