‘Heat islands’ worsen record temperatures in Kansas City

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 11:33 AM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - City leaders and area environmental groups have been studying the effects of “heat islands” and how to mitigate them.

Urban heat islands are warm pockets of air that form in concrete-heavy city environments that lack shade or green spaces.

Last summer UMKC collected data for a nationwide study on urban climates, finding that some neighborhoods in Kansas City were as much as 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the city. The national study surveyed 60 cities, and rated KC as the seventh worst. The survey also noted that households with lower incomes were the most impacted.

The Mid-America Regional Council partnered with UMKC on the data collection. Tom Jacobs, MARC’s environmental programming director, said heat islands can have dramatic long-term effects on environmental and air quality, as well as public health.

“It’s about more than it just being hot on the sidewalk. There’s a lot of health risks,” Jacobs said. “When it’s hotter out we use more energy to cool our buildings, putting out more greenhouse gasses.”

Solutions to heat islands include expanding green spaces and tree cover in denser areas of the city.

“Trees will literally cool the streets,” Jacobs said. “Planting trees is a simple solution to a complex problem.”

A spokesperson for the city said KCMO has prioritized heat islands as part of its climate action plan, which calls for improving tree canopies throughout the city, using alternative building and paving materials that are less heat absorbent, and encouraging rooftop green spaces.