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Volunteers hit the streets to identify 'Urban Heat Islands' in JoCo, Wyandotte County

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Posted at 1:00 PM, Aug 12, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-12 20:59:59-04

JOHNSON COUNTY, Kan. — To better understand the relationship between health, climate and heat, Johnson and Wyandotte counties are participating in NOAA’s urban heat island mapping campaign.

160 volunteers from all over the metro were sent out on Saturday for “Spot the Hot,” a community-led data gathering project where volunteers identify and report the hottest parts of their neighborhoods.

Each volunteer group was assigned one of 31 different routes in either Wyandotte or Johnson county. They were given sensors to install in their cars, which gather the data as they drive through different parts of the neighborhood.

“So it’s all GPS located, which means we’re collecting a data point about every second of temperature and relative humidity,” said Johnson County’s epidemiologist, Jackson Ward. “We will collect those data points, we’ll get the maps and then it’s really our goal to work with the community and a lot of our local cities that are trying to do climate resilience planning."

The data gathering will capture temperature fluctuations throughout morning, day and night. It will also identify “heat islands,” which are hot spots in neighborhoods where temperatures are up to 20 degrees higher due to lack of tree canopy, extensive pavement or other factors.

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“This is really important because heat is really impactful on health — it puts a lot of stress on the body. It can cause heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and exacerbation of already existing chronic diseases,” said Wyandotte County’s social epidemiologist, Hannah Connor.

The Kennedys decided to volunteer as a family because they believe climate change is bigger than themselves.

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“We’re concerned about her, you know, about our granddaughter and what her future will be like,” Mike Kennedy said.

National data shows neighborhoods most impacted by heat-related health inequities are often those most impacted by systemic racism, indulging polices like redlining.

“Whether we live someplace that has lots of trees and green space, there are other people in our community that don’t have that opportunity. We need to figure out how to mitigate that,” Jane Kennedy said.

The grandparents also say they wanted to teach their little one to stay involved and know that they are all a part of a larger community.

“Even if we don’t help people, we’re still kind to the universe,” Moira Kennedy said.