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As heat, climate danger worsens, Spokane joins national heat mapping project

Spokane is one of several cities across the country participating in a heat mapping effort.
Gonzga University/NOAA
Spokane is one of several cities across the country participating in a heat mapping effort.

The Gonzaga Center for Climate and Society has been selected for a project to map heat in the city of Spokane. A group of volunteers and non-profits hope the map will guide region’s efforts to prepare for future heat events.

Research shows areas without trees, or with many of dark surfaces, can be up to 20 degrees hotter, says Brian Henning, Director of the Gonzaga Center for Climate and Society. He says a new heat mapping project, a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an essential step in making the community more resilient against climate change.

“We have these challenges of windstorms, and ice storms and now we need to be ready for extreme heat, because unfortunately, the heat dome that we had last year is not likely to be the last,” he said. “This is just a common-sense effort to get better information and use it to help protect members of our community.”

Last year 20 Spokane County residents’ deaths were linked to heat exposure. Henning says eventually this map could be layered with others, such as tree coverage, air quality, or socio-economic status, to show which neighborhoods are most vulnerable.

Naghmana Sherazi, the climate justice director at the Lands Council, says she hopes the data will inform cooling shelter projects, or give city leaders ideas on how to spend federal funds.

“This information can be crucial for saving lives,” she said, “it’s going to provide the kind of data the city can use to make sure the cooling shelters are open before certain dates, or which areas are needed the most, and where should the leftover ARPA dollars should be going to create something like this, to save lives in the long-term.”

Henning says the project needs volunteers to assist with heat mapping. To volunteer, go to the project’s website,Beat the Heat.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.