How Cities in the 'Heat Belt' Are Addressing Extreme Heat, the New Normal

As the number of excessive heat days steadily increases, cities face a range of new challenges. But they are also trying to get ahead of the problem while they still can.

2 minute read

September 5, 2018, 9:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


Downtown Phoenix

Michael Ruiz / Flickr

Cities across the Southwest are now regularly facing sweltering heat conditions. Many areas contend with days on end of temperatures over 100 degrees, with serious consequences. “Such relentless, triple-digit temperatures — the equivalent danger of rising seas in many coastal communities — are straining power grids, buckling roads, grounding planes and endangering lives,” report Robert Moore and Katherine Davis-Young.

Moore and Davis-Young explain that urban areas are particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat:

The issues are particularly pronounced in the Southwest’s largest metropolitan areas given the “heat island” effect caused by pavement and construction, which reflect heat instead of allowing it to be absorbed into the ground. As a result, temperatures are often several degrees warmer than those outside the city — and sometimes more than 20 degrees warmer at night.

Experts predict that these weather conditions will only continue to worsen. In response, cities are working to mitigate the challenges brought on by the hot weather. Los Angeles, for example, has put into place “cool roofing” requirements and has also used pavement treatments designed to lower the surface temperatures of streets. Phoenix similarly launched a Cool Roofs initiative in 2013. In addition, the city developed a tree-shade master plan, and it has a HeatReady program in the works to help the city prepare for and respond to urban heat dangers.

While cities in the heat belt work proactively to take measures, many still face challenges. “Bureaucracies are slow to innovate. Cost-sensitive developers are reluctant to take steps that could add to the price of new construction,” say Moore and Davis-Young. But one of the greatest hurdles is “community inertia,” when people get used to changing conditions and the effects on their quality of life.

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