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Heat islands impacting vulnerable neighbors in and around downtown Tallahassee

Posted at 6:35 PM, Jun 06, 2024
  • Many of our Tallahassee neighbors are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses due to being on heat islands.
  • A large number of heat-trapping surfaces like concrete, metal, and asphalt and a lack of green spaces cause heat islands.
  • Watch the video to hear from local non-profits, organizations, and government leaders about how they're keeping the most vulnerable neighbors safe.

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

As we head into the summer months, many of our Tallahassee neighbors are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.

One reason is that some of them live in what's known as heat islands.

A large number of heat-trapping surfaces like concrete, metal, and asphalt and a lack of green spaces cause heat islands.

A staple of most developed cities.

The United States EPA says due to the heat island effect, people who live in cities are more at risk than those in suburban or rural areas.

Some areas within a city are often hotter than others.

For Leon County, those areas are concentrated
near the city center in Downtown Tallahassee and some outskirts of the county with large developments.

Urban Heat Island Severity

These neighborhood-level hotspots are called “intra-urban” heat islands.

"Moving up right into here is the Griffin Heights area which has a very large population of seniors we serve," Nicole Ballas, the Elder Care Services Chief Development Officer said as she pointed to the Trust for Public Land's map that shows the relative heat severity in our neighborhoods.

Residents of intra-urban heat islands are more likely to experience heat-related illnesses like heat stroke.

"Someone that's confused, someone that has a high fever," Dr. Thomas Eckler, an emergency physician at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare. "They're losing the ability to regulate their temperature, and they're going to have a fever of 104 105, 106, they're going to stop sweating."

Neighbors who may face a higher risk of heat-related illnesses also include young children and the unhoused.

Leon County Emergency Management has an extreme heat plan that includes multiple scenarios.

"We're able to make our libraries or county library locations during the normal operating hours cooling centers," Kevin Peters, Leon County Emergency Management Director said. "If we have the extreme heat warnings, all libraries open every day of the week."

Heat islands also drive up utility costs.

"You don't have extra funds to turn that air conditioning down," Ballas said. "And if you aren't going to turn that air conditioning down, there's probably something that you're going to have to pull away. And that could be food. And for seniors that could be medication, which is really dangerous."

Elder Care Services is currently accepting donations to give out free fans to those in need.

"It's fan drive time because the needs there and we're getting calls," Ballas said.

Extreme heat---and heat islands---will continue to be a concern in our area as development continues—and the weather intensifies.

Dr. Eckler said like you might prepare for hurricane
season you also need to prepare for extreme heat. In addition to the possibility of power going off.

"What's going to be your plan for water? How are you going to stay hydrated? And then what are you going to do if you know that plan fails? What's your backup plan?" Dr. Eckler said.

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