With more days being “hotter than Georgia asphalt,” cities face heat-related issues.
The Union of Concerned Scientists wars that Georgia’s future will be “hotter ‘n a blister bug in a pepper patch.” A 2019 report, “Killer Heat in the United States: Climate Choices and the Future of Dangerously Hot Days,” predicts that the Southeast region will be the hardest hit by potential lethal heat if no action is taken to mitigate the predicted increase.
Georgia isn’t spared in the report’s assessment. The report predicts that the number of days the heat index is above the worker safety threshold of 90 degrees will increase from an average of 70 days per year to 127 days by midcentury and 153 days by the year 2100. The analysis calculates that the number of days where the heat index is above 100 degrees will increase from 16 days per year on average to 70 days by midcentury and 104 by the century’s end.
Currently, Georgia experiences an average of four days per year with a heat index above 105 degrees. According to the report, this would increase nearly tenfold to 39 days by midcentury and to 77 days by the century’s end. In the end, the report predicts that in just 80 years 9.6 million Georgians will be exposed to a heat index above 105 degrees for more than a month.
Increased heat can lead to numerous issues. Energy consumption increases as the demand for electricity to run air conditioning spikes, resulting in higher energy costs. Heat-related deaths, respiratory problems, heat exhaustion and heat stroke all increase as the number of hot days increase. Water quality can also take a hit as the increased temperature of stormwater runoff can negatively impact the aquatic life in streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. Compounding this issue for cities is that they have less green cover than rural areas; pavement absorbs and retains heat, which can create urban heat islands.
Savannah is one Georgia city that takes the likelihood of more extreme heat days seriously and is taking a number of steps to mitigate the impact on its residents.
According to Nick Deffley, the director of Savannah’s Office of Sustainability, the city has partnered with the University of Georgia and Georgia Sea Grant to promote the value of trees to create healthy air, reduce flooding and cool down its neighborhoods. Additionally, the city and Chatham County will use information from the Savannah Tree Foundation’s tree canopy analysis to inform future work efforts.
In a pilot project with Georgia Tech and the county, the city is deploying heat/humidity sensors to begin heat
mapping in its more vulnerable communities. Savannah is also pursuing the development of “resilience hubs” that would, among other benefits, provide cool places for the city’s at-risk residents to locate during hot days. And in an effort to reach its 2035 goal of 100% clean renewable electricity, city officials are in the early planning stages of a pilot project to weatherize and increase the energy efficiency of homes in vulnerable communities where a disproportionate amount of household income is spent on cooling.
Learn more about Savannah’s sustainability efforts by visiting the city’s Office of Sustainability on the city’s web site, www.savannahga.gov.
This article appears in the September/October edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.