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Spokane's low-income neighborhoods are eight to fourteen degrees hotter research finds

2022 heat map spokane.jpg
Gonzaga University Center for Climate, Society and the Environment
A heat map of the city of Spokane created by the work of about 40 volunteers who drove the city during the cooler, and hotter parts of the day to collect street level data on heat in the city.

A recently completed study found Spokane’s lowest income neighborhoods are on average eight degrees hotter than higher income, greener parts of the city. That data could become an essential part of planning for future climate disasters.

This summer 40 volunteers mapped Spokane during the hottest and coolest times of day. In results published this week, they found during the hottest time of day, the city’s lower income areas, were on average around eight degrees hotter than the Manito neighborhood on the South Hill, which is covered with a decades old tree canopy. In the morning, the difference in temperature in many areas was starker, with an almost 14-degree difference.

The neighborhoods that were the hottest throughout the day were West Central, downtown Spokane, East Central and Northeast Spokane.

Brian Henning, director of Gonzaga University’s Center for Climate Society and the Environment, which led the study, said the data shows how much a difference tree canopy, street surfaces and reflective buildings can make.

“When we look at our phone and it said its 88 degrees outside, but its drawing information not necessarily from directly outside you, it could actually be quite a bit warmer in certain neighborhoods,” he said, “That should be helpful when we try and make plans for the next extreme heat event like we had in 2021 when 20 of our community members died.”

Henning is referring to last year’s heat dome and smoke event, where temperatures were hotter normal, for far longer than the region typically see. The Pacific Northwest also saw widespread poor air quality from wildfire smoke, putting people without air conditioning or housing at extreme risk.

Henning said the study will be shared with the city of Spokane to direct tree planting efforts, as well as other infrastructure projects. He said the built environment, such as asphalt and reflective surfaces, is also be a major contributor to the difference in temperature.

The research will also be combined with Washington State Department of Health data on vulnerabilities to determine what areas are at highest risk.

“No one needs to be dying of extreme heat in Spokane Washington in the 21st century,” Henning said, “With good planning, and connection between community members, we can make sure everyone in our community is safe.”

He said eventually, the entire body of research will be used for a region-wide preparedness plan.

Henning said the community can still help continue the research through a survey which measures air conditioner ownership, as well as perception of heat.

The survey and the full report are available on the center for climate’s website.

Spokane was among 14 cities selected by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, for heat mapping and urban heat island research.