Editorial: The heat has not been terrible this summer. This will not always be the case. | Editorials
Labor Day traditionally marks the end of summer, and while June, July and August are still hot and humid, we’re glad the temperatures here over the past few months have actually been a bit below average. This is good news because extreme heat can be more than just uncomfortable, costly and destructive; it can be deadly.
We’re lucky to have dodged the kind of brutal heatwaves that have hit other parts of the United States — like Minnesota, where triple-digit temperatures have caused pavement to flare up and car windows to shatter — but we would be foolish to expect this summer the weather in the future will also be relatively kind to us.
We’re lucky to have dodged the kind of brutal heatwaves that have hit other parts of the United States — like Minnesota, where triple-digit temperatures have caused pavement to flare up and car windows to shatter — but we would be foolish to expect that summer weather in the future will also be relatively kind to us.
That’s why we must continue to look at all kinds of changes, big and small, that we can make to our communities to adapt them to a warmer climate — and to protect the health of our elderly, infirm and young, who are all more vulnerable to extreme heat.
A good example of this work is the Charleston County Department of Public Works‘ successful experiment in adding a special ingredient, titanium dioxide, to putty applied to newly paved streets to extend their longevity. It began last year and included streets in the Rosemont Community neighborhood of Charleston as well as downtown Bennett Street.
The county got the results this year and found that these coatings were four times more reflective than untreated roads, making them cooler. Testing by Texas A&M University also found that the coating helped reduce harmful vehicle emissions by 39% because when vehicle exhaust passes through the road, it oxidizes and its harmful emissions are broken down. It also removed 94% of microplastic debris that might otherwise have entered local waters.
As a result, this fall the county will soon add titanium dioxide to the sealant on 31 additional streets, including some downtown and near the freeway in North Charleston, county roadway manager Mackenzie Kelley said. “Advantage is determined by location, population density, and traffic volume,” she tells us. Titanium dioxide can be harmful if inhaled, but is used here as part of a wet mix applied over a road; since it is not suspended in the air, no one breathes it.
Charleston County is one of South Carolina’s leaders in exploring innovative technologies to keep streets and neighborhoods cooler. Nationwide, several other cities are also getting in on the game. Phoenix is working on a cool pavement pilot program and has found that it can reduce the average surface temperature by about 11 degrees during noon and after- noon and more than 2 degrees at sunrise. We urge other local governments to think about how they can keep their streets cooler, whether that means changing their sidewalk recipe or planting additional street trees to provide both beauty and shade.
We are also encouraged by the new research underway at the Gadsden Green public housing complex in downtown Charleston. Previous research has shown that this area, which is relatively lacking in mature trees, is one of the downtown heat islands – a part of the city that gets relatively warmer and therefore poses a greater health risk. residents and other transients.
Last month, residents of Gadsden Green began learning how to measure temperature, humidity, wind speed and more at specific points in their community. The project is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is led by the SC Sea Grant Consortium, the City of Charleston, The Citadel and Climate Adaptation Partners, as well as the Charleston Housing Authority, the University of South Carolina and the Medical School. from South Carolina.
The data will show how different landscapes and building materials can store and emit different amounts of heat. Temperatures will be recorded by Kestrel Wet Bulb Globe Temperature devices and FLIR infrared devices – new technologies that give us more information than traditional thermometers.
A final phase this year will summarize the results and detail the effect of oppressive heat on the environment and personal health. Residents will learn more about the risks and the steps they can take to protect themselves. Those interested in learning more can visit scseagrant.org/chhrp/.
We are lucky that our temperatures have never soared this summer to the point of making international (or even national) news.
And we’re fortunate to have a relatively new and widespread effort to learn more about how heat affects our environment, our community, and our neighbors. And we’re lucky to see some early initiatives that will turn what we learn into meaningful action as we build and rebuild.
But to continue to successfully adapt to the warmer summers expected in the future, we must continue to create our own luck. Making ourselves and our neighbors more resistant to extreme heat is cool, in every sense of the word.