hot as hades

Report: Houston ranks among the top 5 hottest metros in the nation

It's hot in Houston — and according to a new report, there are only three other U.S. cities that are hotter than H-Town. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

A new report takes the temperature of urban heat islands across the U.S., and Houston lands in the hotter-than-you-know-what category.

The report, released July 14 by the nonprofit news organization Climate Central, ranks Houston the fourth worst place among the country's urban heat islands. Houston sits behind New Orleans, holding down the No. 1 spot, with Newark, New Jersey, at No. 2 and New York City at No. 3.

"Even for a Houstonian, it's easy to think first of flooding or hurricanes when it comes to regional climate impacts, but increases in daytime and nighttime temperatures at the rate we've seen since the 1970s can do as much — if not more — damage," the Nature Conservancy of Texas notes in a July 2020 news release.

Climate Central emphasizes that extreme urban heat is a public health threat. Texas, Arizona, and California accounted for 37 percent of the country's heat-related deaths between 2004 and 2018, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data released in 2020.

According to the Climate Central report, Houston scored so high because of the city's sizeable share of impermeable surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete, stone, and brick. Impermeable surfaces absorb heat and prevent water from penetrating them.

Climate Central describes urban heat islands as big urban locations that are hotter that outlying areas, especially during the summer. Neighborhoods in a highly developed city can experience peak temperatures that are 15 to 20 degrees above nearby places that have more trees and less pavement, the group says.

The nonprofit created an index to evaluate the intensity of urban heat islands and applied it to 159 cities across the U.S., with Houston claiming the No. 4 spot.

"Heat islands are heavily influenced by albedo, which measures whether a surface reflects sunlight or absorbs and retains the sun's heat," Climate Central says. "Other factors include the amount of impermeable surface, lack of greenery and trees, building height, and heat created by human activities."

Results of a one-day study carried out last August support Climate Central's conclusion about Houston.

The study mapped out heat islands across 320 square miles of Houston and Harris County. More than 80 community scientists fanned out to sample temperatures during three one-hour periods last August 7.

The hottest point measured during the heat-mapping day was 103.3 degrees just southwest of the Galleria on Richmond Avenue near Chimney Rock Road. At the same time, volunteers recorded a temperature of 86.2 degrees about 20 miles to the east on Woodforest Boulevard in Channelview. The result: a 17.1-degree temperature swing between Houston and Harris County's hottest and coolest areas at the same point in time.

The Houston Harris Heat Action Team — a collaboration among the Houston Advanced Research Center, the City of Houston, Harris County Public Health, and the Nature Conservancy of Texas — sponsored the heat-mapping exercise with financial support from Lowe's and Shell.

"The data has identified Houston's 'hot spots' and shows that some Houstonians are impacted by urban heat island effect more than others," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a January news release about the heat-mapping study. "We will work with partners to target our cooling and health strategies … to better help Houstonians beat the heat."

The heat-mapping event was conducted in conjunction with Resilient Houston, the city's campaign to make Houston neighborhoods greener and cooler. The City of Houston says data from the heat-mapping study will help with evaluation of health risks related to extreme heat, coordination of tree plantings, installation of shade-producing structures, establishment of cooling centers, and targeted design of parks, streets, housing, and other infrastructure.

"Science shows that there is real potential to reshape our built environment and cool our cities down where it's needed most," says Suzanne Scott, director of the Nature Conservancy of Texas. "And now, armed with this data, local planners, developers, and environmental groups like ours will be able to leverage smart, cooling urban design strategies that offer multiple benefits — including climate resilience — for all residents, both human and wildlife."

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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