Where in Columbia is it hottest? This study aims to find out

Columbia is known for being “famously hot.” It’s no exaggeration.

Over the weekend, researchers investigated which areas of the city are the hottest and most vulnerable to the warming climate. Volunteers drove along 16 routes spanning 190 miles of the Midlands and recorded temperature and humidity data.

The study was conducted in hopes of combating what is known as “urban heat islands.” These islands are created when the natural landscape and tree canopies are replaced with buildings and pavement, which more readily absorb heat.

“If we’re really concerned about the quality of life of all our neighbors, we need this kind of data to be able to address the needs that we have,” said Bob Petrulis, a member of the city’s Climate Protection Action Committee and a volunteer on the project.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found extreme heat to be the deadliest weather event. The very old, the very young and those with certain health conditions can be particularly susceptible to its dangers, and lower-income communities are disproportionately affected as well.

Heat is often underestimated, and it gets the least attention from urban planners, said Kirstin Dow, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina and a lead investigator on the project. This effort is an attempt to help change that.

“We don’t treat it as seriously as we should,” Dow said. “Heat is finally being recognized for the hazard it is.”

Global warming means consistently higher temperatures. Days are getting hotter, and nights aren’t cooling off the way they once did.

As trees age and more vegetation is cleared for development, the harder it becomes to keep Columbia cool.

Mary Pat Baldauf, the city’s sustainability coordinator, project volunteer and a resident of more than 30 years, has noticed the increase in temperature. But many people might write it off as being in Columbia’s nature, she said.

Now that the temperature data is collected, the information may help inform decision-making and improve “resilience” and “adaptation” to climate change in the region once fully analyzed, Dow said. It will then be easier to determine solutions warming temperatures.

The results of the study may help guide the city’s land redevelopment code and encourage the conservation of trees, said John Grego, chair of the Richland County Conservation Commission.

Infrastructure such as reflective roads and adding more grass instead of concrete and asphalt are also among things that can mitigate heat.

Greater availability of cooling stations and misting stations can also help folks manage the summer weather.

“One of the important things to do now is to start addressing the urban heat islands so we can reduce the impacts of future temperature changes as much as we can by cooling the cities,” Dow said. “The pressure is just going to continue.”

The heat island mapping effort has been led by Columbia’s Tree and Appearance Commission and funded by the National Integrated Heat Health Information System, the Richland County Conservation Commission and Columbia Green. The results of the study will be processed in the fall.