New report helps Utahns prepare for extreme heat waves

Oct 18, 2023, 8:30 AM | Updated: 10:35 am

The Glendale area of Salt Lake City. This area is a "heat island" and a bad spot for extreme heat w...

The Glendale area of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

(Scott G Winterton/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Extreme heat is the nation’s number one cause of weather-related death.

That’s why the Salt Lake City Heat Watch Report was created. The report aims to help local decision-makers understand how to better protect Utahns against the growing impact of extreme heat.

It was released this week and used data collected on July 15, 2023. The data collection was part of this year’s national urban heat island mapping campaign, which is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Robert Wilson, teacher and coordinator of climate studies at Rowland Hall, leads the program. He credits his 42 student volunteers for gathering the data this past summer.

What the data shows

Thanks to the work of Wilson and his students, Salt Lake City now has a highly detailed heat map. It shows officials and urban planners where the growing impacts of extreme heat are and how we can respond.

“This data shows what we have long suspected: heat impacts different parts of our city differently,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a press release.

This in turn affirms her goal to plant thousands of trees on the city’s west side, including the Glendale, Poplar Grove, and Rose Park neighborhoods. Planting trees in the area will cool it down because it’s now considered a “heat island.” Heat islands are areas that experience temperatures higher than their surroundings.

However, Wilson hopes the data will spark curiosity among all residents, not just urban planners. It’s an opportunity for Utahns to educate themselves on how to prepare for future heat waves.

“How does it work, what does that mean for my health and well-being and comfort? How does heat work on my body? And then how does it work for my landscape? Or how does it work for something I live in or work in or am going to build,” Wilson said.

Wilson will share the report’s findings at The Natural History Museum on Sunday, Nov. 5. 

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New report helps Utahns prepare for extreme heat waves