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Volunteers map Spokane to prepare for future heat waves

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Rebecca White | Spokane Public Radio
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Volunteer Amanda Parrish adjusts a temperature sensor she and her team member Naghmana Sherazi have been using to map heat in Spokane. They drove one of seven routes across the city.

Community volunteers worked with Gonzaga University’s Center for Climate, Society and the Environment to create a street level heat map of Spokane.

Once the data is released, it will guide tree planting, as well as efforts to make the region more resilient to future climate disasters.

It’s six a.m. and already over 60 degrees. Community members Naghmana Sherazi and Amanda Parrish, are mapping the city of Spokane with delicate heat instruments.

The team is using a sensor that’s secured by rolling up the vehicle’s window. The sensor is attached to a pole that extends just enough enough to measure the heat in the areas they drive through and not pick up the heat from their vehicle.

Parrish is the navigator.

“So we start down here in Vinegar Flats, cross Hangman Creek right here,” she explained, “Then we’ll go back a little bit into Brownes Addition before we skirt up to the South Hill and down.”

Their team is driving one of seven routes through the city.

Their goal is too get heat readings at walking level, instead of relying on satellite measurements. Parrish, the executive director of the Lands Council, said the data could be used in a number of ways, but she’s interested in tree planting. Her organization and the city of Spokane hope to increase Spokane’s tree canopy to 40% by 2030.

“We have volunteers that want to work with us, we've got this program up and running, the SpoCanopy program,” she said “And this kind of information really tells us, where shade trees are needed to save lives.”

This research, launched by the Gonzaga University’s Center for Climate, Society and the Environment, is in response to a historic heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest last year. Statewide, 157 people died of heat related illnesses, 19 of which were in Spokane.

The climate center has already mapped where the deaths occurred locally. Most were in lower-income neighborhoods with few trees. The people who died tended to be over the age of 50.

Brian Henning, the center’s director, said the project is funded through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

He said the goal is to build resiliency, through tree planting, targeted cooling shelters or public work projects.

“What we'll know now is where we should target first, which communities should get help first,” he said, “It's also possible to actually treat road surfaces. Some communities have treated them with a surface that would make them more reflective and a lighter color. That would be an immediate step the city council could decide to recommend to the administration to actually change immediately, when you have neighborhoods that have large parts of asphalt, that could actually make a big difference.”

He said about 80 local volunteers gathered the data. The results will be shared with the city, but also available to anyone in the community.

“Our city and organizations in the area will then have good data that will be owned by and freely available to the community,” Henning said, “It will be community-led research available to the community for making good decisions so that fewer people die.”

He said the data should be processed in about six to eight weeks and available for the community to view this fall.

Spokane is one of 14 cities participating in this NOAA mapping project.

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.