July 2023 was a blistering hot month around the world – in fact, June and July were the two warmest months in recorded human history.
Even though other parts of the country are experiencing more extreme heat, Columbus is not immune to increasing temperatures. In fact, Columbus has the fastest growing urban heat island effect of major cities in the country, further compounding the effects of a changing climate.
The urban heat island effect is a phenomenon where cities experience much warmer ambient temperatures than nearby rural areas due to differences in land cover, urban design, and heat released by human activity.
In Columbus, the city core reaches temperatures up to 24 degrees warmer than the surrounding rural areas. This is particularly evident in neighborhoods with more pavement and less trees–historically disinvested areas of the city. Temperatures downtown, in Hilltop and Southside can reach up to 13 degrees warmer than surrounding `neighborhoods.
Urban heat islands are more than just uncomfortable; they also lead to lasting negative impacts on people and the economy.
Changing weather patterns across the globe increase health risks, worsen food insecurity, result in reduced productivity across all sectors, and amplify extreme weather emergencies. As the world continues to urbanize and populations concentrate in urban areas, more people are exposed to the negative impacts of heat islands. As cities grow in size and density, the heat island effect intensifies. The frequency, duration, and intensity of heat waves is increasing in cities across the US, including Columbus.
Relatedly, increasing temperatures also negatively affect air quality. Heat waves increase ground-level ozone pollution; extended growing seasons increase allergens; and droughts increase the risk of wildfires that result in carbon emissions and particulate matter in the air.
Children, older adults, and those who are experiencing illnesses are more vulnerable to heat-related illnesses and poor air quality. There are a few things individuals can do to be proactive as temperatures continue to rise:
- Create an action plan for electricity outages, and if the power goes out suddenly, here’s what to know;
- Prepare a comprehensive emergency preparedness kit that provides for 72 hours of self-sufficiency and includes heat-related essentials: medication, N95 masks, water, electrolyte drink packets, cooling towels, battery-powered fans, and ice packs;
- Identify suitable cooling centers in our community and make necessary arrangements to access them in an emergency;
- Sign up for alerts and warnings to stay well-informed and updated on potential risks or hazards in Franklin County;
- Share this information with friends, family, and neighbors. A prepared and connected community increases self-sufficiency and reduces demand for emergency services, making them available to those who need them most.
The effects of a warming planet are real, and people all over the world and in our community are feeling the impact. It may feel frightening, but throughout the city, region, and country, individuals, companies, and the government are taking action and making progress. We cannot accept our current circumstances as the new normal and must keep working toward change.