This summer, coming to a close on Wednesday, September 22, brought heat waves, record-breaking rainfall and floods. However, it is extreme heat that kills more people than all the other “extreme weather events” — floods, winds, cold, tornadoes and so on — combined.
You may have seen some trees with serial numbers around the neighborhood. NYC Parks’ street tree planting (call 311 to request a free tree on your block!) is just one of the strategies outlined by the Cool Neighborhoods NYC initiative, the implementation of which is set to end this year. The plan, which launched in 2017, aims “to help keep New Yorkers safe during hot weather, mitigate [Urban Heat Island] effect drivers and protect against the worst impacts of rising temperatures from climate change.”
Another part of this initiative was identifying the city’s most heat-vulnerable neighborhoods through the Heat Vulnerability Index, developed by Columbia University and the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
According to the Cool Neighborhoods NYC report, physical factors — the distribution of the city’s “sparse” vegetation, building typologies and surface materials — overlap with social and health factors to produce disproportionate effects upon the most vulnerable residents of high-poverty neighborhoods: older adults, those in poor health and those who do not have access to air conditioning. These effects are borne at a “disproportionately high rate” by Black New Yorkers, who die of heat stress related deaths at more than double the rate of any other group.
Together these factors produce the Heat Vulnerability Index, which on the city’s “Heat Vulnerability Explorer” is displayed as a scale of increasing risk from 1 to 5. Bushwick and East Williamsburg ranked as presenting higher levels of risk. Specifically, the Neighborhood Tabulation Area designated Bushwick South ranked 5 on the scale (highest risk), Bushwick North and East Williamsburg ranked 4; and Ridgewood ranked 1 (lowest risk).
Other neighborhoods which ranked at the highest level of risk include parts of Harlem, the northern half of Crown Heights, Brownsville and East New York, among others.
For Bushwick and East Williamsburg, temperatures and poverty rates were above the city average, while green spaces and air conditioner ownership were below it. The opposite was true for Ridgewood in all categories except for green space, which was below the citywide average of 38 percent at 27.8 percent.
Nighttime heat is increasing at a higher rate than daytime heat as well. The New York Times reports, “While average nighttime temperatures are on the rise, it’s the extremes — that is, the number of abnormally hot nights — that are rising the fastest.”
Extreme weather events, not just heat, are on the rise. Michael Oppenheimer, director of the Center for Policy Research on Energy and Environment at Princeton University, told The Verge, “They are called extreme [weather] events because they’re a big deviation from the norm, but they are becoming the norm.”
And with New Yorkers heading into a Saturday with a RealFeel® of 88 degrees, the summer heat isn’t going away just yet.
Top photo by Nicole Allen Viana.
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