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Colorado College research shows urban heat islands in Colorado Springs

Posted at 6:17 PM, Aug 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-27 20:33:39-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — A new Colorado College report shows a quartet of weather phenomena as the most serious climate-driven threats toward Colorado Springs.

The city has endured wildfires, floods and drought in the past, and in response, has dedicated time and money to prepare for those disasters.

But the fourth, known as the urban heat island, is what students and faculty want to bring to the city's attention, vying for solutions to protect vulnerable communities.

The urban heat island effect is described as the rise in temperature for a built-up, manmade area when compared to surrounding rural areas. The effect can include a jump in temperature of up to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit, as heat is absorbed and later radiates at night.

"Cities are hotter than surrounding countryside, and there's a variety of reasons for that. It has to do with paved surfaces that absorb heat and then reflect back, particularly asphalt and black surfaces," said Corina McKendry, an associate professor of political science and environmental studies at Colorado College.

A Colorado College contingent presented their findings to the Colorado Springs City Council in a climate vulnerability report during the Monday work session. The report, presented by senior Lily Weissgold, was completed as part of a senior capstone course at the school.

"And according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), more Americans die from extreme heat than any natural disaster," Weissgold said.

Their research included a heat map, showing major urban areas like downtown, the Academy Boulevard corridor and the industrial complex along Garden of the Gods Road as urban heat islands within city limits.

McKendry said the issue compounds in the summer, especially for those with health problems impacted by high temperatures.

"And it can expose certain populations that are already more susceptible to heat to even more dangerous conditions," McKendry said.

But the research doesn't stop at pointing out problems. It also includes some solutions, like planting more trees in urban areas, shown to provide a cooling relief between 2 and 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Looking specifically at buildings, Weissgold said changes on the roof can make a big difference.

"You can either paint the top of the roof white, so that it's more reflective and less sun comes in and is absorbed and re-radiates out," Weissgold said. "Or, you can put a green roof on."

The group recognizes that any of the changes would cost money within an already tight city budget. They advised council explore options for federal grants and other assistance programs to help pay for them.

There's no word if council will accept and/or act on any of the recommendations for heat islands.

To address the aforementioned weather phenomena, Weissgold and company advocated for incentivized programs to give homeowners and residents a reason to take part. For example, they suggested a rain barrel program to help manage water scarcity.

In addition, they'd like the city to expand on current efforts of wildfire mitigation, like annual defensible space and vegetation thinning programs for homes within the wildland urban interface (WUI).