How hot is Milwaukee? Urban heat island mapping arrives in city to help with extreme weather response

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 19:00:56-04

MILWAUKEE — Volunteers across Milwaukee got in their cars on July 21 to help measure just how hot the city can be. More specifically, what parts of the city are the hottest. That data will then be used to help the city respond and implement changes to deal with extreme heat events.

It will take a few months to get the raw data mapped out in a form that will be usable by a variety of organizations in Milwaukee. That will likely be in September or October of 2022. Look for a follow-up story from TMJ4 once the final results are released.

Shana Maker saw an Instagram post from Groundwork Milwaukee that piqued her interest. The post highlighted a volunteer opportunity to help measure heat across Milwaukee.

“One thing that’s really lacking is our understanding of heat impacts in the city of Milwaukee, of where it’s actually hottest,” Dan Buckler of the Department of Natural Resources said.

He saw the need to better understand how heat impacts different parts of the city. The DNR partnered with a national company called CAPA Strategies. Together, they organized the layout for heat mapping in Milwaukee.

“On a really hot, dry day we would have, at three times of the day, nine teams driving predetermined routes in the city,” Buckler explained.

July 21 was a hot and sunny day with little wind, perfect for the study. Shana and I hopped in the car to start our route, along with more than 40 other volunteers all across town. Each of us placed a specialized sensor in the passenger window, specifically designed to measure temperature and humidity every second, giving highly detailed information along each route.

Our particular route took us around north Milwaukee, about an hour drive in total.

“I look forward to seeing the results," Maker said after finishing our route for the day. She is not the only one.

“Climate change is 100% an extremely important public health issue,” Dr. Nick Tomaro said.

Dr. Tomaro works for the City of Milwaukee Health Department, one of many organizations that will put this data into action.

“We can overlay that data with the tool that we’ve created at the local health and state health department level called the heat vulnerability index,” said Dr. Tomaro.

Combined, this comprehensive data will show what parts of the city get hit hardest during extreme heat events. Potentially, on a hyper-local, street-by-street basis.

“Literally, you could do a door-to-door campaign ahead of a heat event to say, 'how are you, what are your needs, do you need an air conditioner?',” said Dr. Tomaro.

“There's a broad array of uses for this data, and for my work, it’s only going to scratch the surface,” Buckler added.

Other areas of interest will focus on ways to mitigate the impact of heat through things like tree planting and maintenance, providing more shade in places like bus stops, breaking up large areas of pavement with green spaces and vegetation, and learning the true impact of Lake Michigan on those really hot days.

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