Kansas City is an 'urban heat island' - KCTV5 News

Kansas City is an 'urban heat island'

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We’re experiencing a September heatwave and it turns out that Kansas City residents spend a higher percentage of their paycheck than most people to cool their homes.

Here’s why.

Part of the reason is geography. In the Midwest, we have to adjust our temperatures for all four seasons.

In the city, we also have a lot of pavement and it radiates heat. That’s why areas with a lot of asphalt deal with hotter temperatures on days like these. Paved surfaces soak up the heat and then radiate it back out during the day.

The KC metro area has been identified as an “urban heat island” – an urban area that’s nearly 5 degrees hotter than surrounding rural communities -- and Kansas City officials are looking for ways to cool the city down.

On a warm September day, downtown KC will be full of people out enjoying the sunshine.

However, it turns out that some parts of the metro area heat up faster than others.

Dennis Murphey is the city's Chief Environmental Officer. Recently, he's been examining several nationwide studies that name KC an “urban heat island,” which is a place where expansive pavement causes heat to radiate and drastically warm the entire city.

“The temperatures in our urban core can be particularly warmer than the areas in our periphery, such as rural areas around the city,” he said.

To demonstrate the concept, KCTV5 took a thermometer to several spots. In downtown KC, the pavement heated up to 115 degrees. At a nearby park, it was much cooler. On the Plaza, the temperature was still over 100. On a citywide scale, it adds up.

Those who regularly walk through downtown KC can feel the difference when the city heats up.

“In some places, it can be more than 20 degrees higher in the city than outlying areas,” Murphey said. “People are usually surprised at the number of heat deaths that occur.”

He also said that it can cause higher ozone levels for people with respiratory problems.

Murphey calls the radiating effect a public health issue. “We anticipate those problems will grow in future years,” he said.

CO2 emissions enhance the effect.

Green spaces, urban gardens, white and reflective building tops, and solar panels reduce it.

He said the city is looking for ways to add green spaces and trees to public streets to help mitigate its effects. They are encouraging residents to plant trees, as well.

“We intend to do more planting of trees right away, but the real opportunities lie on private property,” he said.

Heat islands can drive up energy costs and often impact low-income areas the most due to the aging homes and HVAC units that are often found there.

Joe Barton is an HVAC supervisor at Bob Allen Heating & Cooling.

“We need to get the older systems out and the newer systems in,” he said. “We have to get the newer systems in to stop putting heat outside.”

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