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."

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

Trending News