North Carolina's summer feels 'even warmer' in Raleigh urban heat islands

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ByCindy Bae via WTVD logo
Thursday, July 28, 2022
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Raleigh residents in Method community look to escape rising temperatures and lack of shade.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- For Raleigh resident Roger Wilkerson, a transformer in the Method community outside had another purpose on Thursday.

"Because it's cooler and I'm in the shade," Wilkerson said, sitting on the transformer with his cane propped beside him.

Wilkerson, who was taking a walk for his health, took a break on the hot summer day.

"I normally walk around the block because I just had a stroke last year," Wilkerson said. "I'd normally be inside. If they had more shade, or trees out here, would make it cooler."

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The Method community is known as an urban heat island, where residents can experience up to a 20-degree difference in temperature from communities in shadier, less paved areas, according to the City of Raleigh.

"A heat island would be a place where perhaps there is less shade or perhaps there is a more, hard, dark surface or perhaps a convergence of both of those," Museum of Life and Science's Max Cawley said.

Wilkerson said he can tell the difference in his walks.

"It can be hotter down by NC State because there's so much sun down there," Wilkerson said. "And I work out in Cary, and it can get real hot out there."

Method, which is historically an African American community, has grown to be more diverse.

"It has a very deep, rich, history, which has supported other immigrant communities coming in," Advance Carolina's La'Meshia Whittington said.

According to Whittington, the area has seen gentrification and an increase in public transit, which will create more pollution in time.

"The concern is when we see the fact that there's increased pollution, increased carbon emissions, increased diesel and less greenery, less shrubs, less canopy cover, no actual solar roofs or white roofs or cool roofs as they call them because again, affordable housing, or communities who can't afford to have those roofs, what is actually helping them to prevent those higher temperature increases?" Whittington said.

A recent study in Raleigh found a significant difference between warmer and cooler places.

"It found that there is a nine-degree temperature difference in Raleigh compared to rural outlier areas," Whittington said. "So that's what we're seeing in Method Road. We also see the impact on students."

In Durham, Cawley said the highest differential they measured was around 11 degrees.

"Which means that some residents within a relatively small area within Durham were experiencing temperatures that were 11 degrees warmer than some of their neighbors," Cawley said.

Smart growth is necessary as more people move to the Triangle area and to protect vulnerable communities.

"It's very important that smart growth that includes ensuring people are protected from climate hazards like heat, that environments are kept cool, that we are not building in ways that are going to expose more people to heat in the future is vitally important as these areas grow very fast," Cawley said.

Whittington added that some efforts they're already seeing include the use of electric vehicles and people planting their own greenery.

"When we're talking about our local elected officials, urban planning should quite literally mean how do we create incubation around the existing populations by which we need to support them living, staying, thriving, but we also maintain the environment around them," Whittington said.