Beat the Heat

Spokane Beat the Heat is an initiative of Gonzaga University's Center for Climate, Society, and the Environment to help our community understand and respond to the impacts of extreme summer heat.
The Spokane Riverfront Park clocktower with a brilliant orange and blue background sky reflecting off the river.

Photo Credit - Kirk Fisher

The Gonzaga Climate Center was awarded a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization’s (NOAA) National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) to conduct a community science urban heat island mapping campaign in the summer of 2022. This study made it possible to better understand how urban heat is experienced in different areas of the City of Spokane. For instance, the study revealed that there is a 13.9° temperature difference between some areas. In other words, if it is 90° in one neighborhood, it could be 104° in another neighborhood.

Read the press release

NOAA Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaigns: 2022 Locations

EXTREME HEAT IN SPOKANE

Extreme heat in Spokane refers to days with temperatures at or above 90° Fahrenheit and nights with temperatures at or above 68° Fahrenheit. On hot days and nights, people are at risk for heat-related illnesses, such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Some parts of the community are more vulnerable to extreme heat than others; this includes seniors, young children, pregnant women, people with certain health conditions, low-income communities, communities of color, people without access to air conditioning, and outdoor workers.

To date, extreme heat is the deadliest weather hazard in the US, responsible for more deaths each year than hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. The CDC reports that every year in the US an average of 65,000 Americans are admitted into emergency rooms1 and more than 600 are killed2 due to extreme heat-related illness. Heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable. In addition to preparing residents for the high summer temperatures that are common in the Inland Northwest , Spokane Beat the Heat will also work with partners to reduce the impacts of urban heat islands and prepare the community for future rising temperatures.

"Extreme heat kills more Americans than any other weather event and has the greatest impact on our nation's most vulnerable communities," said Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves. "Fortunately, our talented and dedicated researchers and scientists at NOAA are working directly with communities across the country to help them take action to manage extreme heat. As climate change worsens heat waves, this critical information will help bring local and equitable solutions for those facing the greatest threats."

In 2021 at least 19 Spokane County residents died due to the unprecedented “heat dome.”

URBAN HEAT ISLANDS

On sunny days, dark building materials like concrete, asphalt, and dark rooftops retain more heat from light, causing those surfaces and surrounding areas to be hotter. As a result, areas with more buildings and parking lots often experience higher temperatures due to the urban heat island effect. However, strategies like increasing green space, trees, and using lighter-colored building materials can help cool down these heat islands. The urban heat island effect is made worse by climate change. It is not a cause of climate change.3 

On July 16th, 2022, over 40 community members volunteered from across the City to help map urban heat islands. During the mapping campaign, 7 of the 17 heat mapping routes (more than 40%) were conducted in electric vehicles. Read the summary report of our findings!

COMMUNITY SURVEY

Building on the community science urban heat island mapping, the second phase of the project focuses on a community survey to understand perceptions of urban heat and extreme heat events in Spokane. Using these two sets of data, we can begin to make both short- and long-term plans for extreme heat events to be more resilience to our changing climate.

SUPPORT EXTREME HEAT PLANNING

You can have an impact through the Climate Resilience Project by making a gift of support.

RESOURCES

  • City of Spokane Emergency and Disaster Information: Severe Weather
  • Plan and prepare for extreme heat: ready.gov
  • "Addressing Extreme Heat in Spokane" a report by Owen Hart
  • Heat.gov serves as the premier source of heat and health information for the nation to reduce the health, economic, and infrastructural impacts of extreme heat.

PARTNERS

Community and Health Adaptation Initiative (CHAI)

CHAI is focused specifically on advancing climate adaptation strategies that promote health equity in communities across the state that are feeling the consequences of climate change first and worst, but had the least to do with creating the problem. The CHAI Core Planning team is made up of federal, state, and academic partners. CHAI is currently working with the City of Spokane, the North Olympic Peninsula, and Pierce County and hope to support other regions in WA in the future. We are specifically working with the City of Spokane to support with elements of the City’s 2021 Sustainability Action Plan. Currently CHAI is focused on building capacity and supporting the City of Spokane and Gonzaga Climate Center's work on the adverse human health effects from extreme heat and wildfire smoke. To date, we have been working closely with the Gonzaga Climate Center to identify climate and health priorities in Spokane and have funded one staff position for nearly a year to implement the Beat the Heat program.


1  USGCRP (U.S. Global Change Research Program). 2016. The impacts of climate change on human health in the United States: A scientific assessment. https://health2016.globalchange.gov.
2  CDC, "Natural Disasters, Severe Weather, and COVID-19," https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/index.html
3  Skeptical Science, "Does Urban Heat Island effect exaggerate global warming trends?" https://skepticalscience.com/urban-heat-island-effect.htm