Heat and your health, an upcoming study needs your help to see how much hotter Knoxville can get

An upcoming research project will monitor how much hotter the city is versus rural areas and the risks to your health.
Published: Jun. 8, 2022 at 6:31 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Do you think it’s hotter or cooler at your house than the official temperature for Knoxville? This is important for your health, with a national research project coming down to the street level, and they need your help to collect the data.

Every day the WVLT First Alert Weather team forecasts for more than 30 counties in our area, but did you know the surfaces surrounding you can actually make a big difference in how hot it gets. By how much? Well, that’s what researchers want to know about Knoxville.

From science to public health, multiple departments at the University of Tennessee are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a “heat mapping campaign”. Knoxville is one of 14 cities chosen for this year, and Dr. Jennifer First is on the social work side of this project, and she said their goal is “so that we can map inequalities across the city, in terms of how individuals and communities are impacted by heat.”

This research will focus on Knoxville, because they want to know more about our “urban heat island”, which is a Meteorological term for how all the buildings and roads absorb and radiate the sun’s heat more than grassy areas outside of the city.

Emily Norris is a Summer Research Assistant with the University of Tennessee, and she said, “I think for Knoxville, it’s going to be interesting to see where the shade is having the most impact, and which areas are maintaining the most heat throughout the day.” They need volunteers to sign up to drive around town, and others to join them while navigating, with a sensor clipped on the vehicle that will pick up all the information they need. “A group helped us with points of interest in Knoxville, so we can make sure that our routes are specific to our city”, Emily said.

The date in August will be chosen later, so they pick the exact day based on a sunny forecast.

You could also lend your voice in a survey, as they try to identify other health risks. Dr. First said they need to know, “how they’re able to cool themselves, if they’re able to. What prevents them from cooling themselves, so energy burden is an important question that we want to ask about.”

From years past, cities use their heat island data to create plans for very hot days, and add safety measures in and around the city, such as cooling stations. “We think that this project will have an impact just for years to come in terms of what we’re seeing, our communities are warming, our climates are changing,” said Dr. First.

Heat is the number one weather-related killer, so this research will look at our environment to protect your health.

You can sign up and get more information on the Knoxville Heat Equity Coalition online. WVLT’s Chief Meteorologist Heather Haley will follow-up on the study in August, and the results that are expected a few weeks later.

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