CLARKSVILLE — The Town of Clarksville is investing in the health and safety of current and future residents by getting ahead of growing heat and climate issues in the area.
Clarksville was recently awarded a $171,000 grant through the Indiana Office of Rural and Community Affairs, in partnership with Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute, to identify and address areas of need.
It’s one of only two Indiana municipalities to receive funding for participation in IU’s inaugural ‘Beat the Heat’ campaign. Richmond is the other recipient.
As part of the program, Clarksville has hired Bronte Murrell to start next week as its heat management coordinator. In this role, she’ll help coordinate community events to get public engagement and identify volunteers to help map areas of higher heat within the town, provide data to a national mapping campaign and develop and implement heat-relief strategies.
Clarksville Associate Planner Neal Turpin said being part of this program is paramount in addressing things that contribute to hotter days, like the urban heat effect.
“Climate change has had a lot of impacts on our community and those impacts are likely going to get more extreme,” he said. “Being in an urban areas, the heat island is one of the most significant. Heat and flooding are really what we’re going to be dealing with in the future...so trying to find a way to mitigate the impact of that is going to be incredibly important.”
In Clarksville, the concentration of commercial developments in the center of town can contribute to the heat effect. Officials have already started working on creating a tree canopy to mitigate that.
“The basic idea is that concrete and asphalt hold heat better than grass or vegetation does,” Turpin said, “So parking lots with a lot of roads and houses and driveways will get hotter; heat builds up in cities.
“Clarksville is not a big town geographically but we’re very dense, we’ve got a lot of development, a lot of parking lots and retail spaces and roads. We’re kind of built out, but there is a lot of development that’s adding to this heat island effect that we’re dealing with.”
According to an Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment report, Southern Indiana has for the past several decades had an average of about seven days when the temperature reached 95 degrees or hotter. But by mid-century, the area is projected to have between 38 to 51 extremely hot days per year.
Dana Habeeb, an assistant professor at IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering who oversees the Beat the Heat program, said it’s crucial to address heat issues as they continue to be a serious health hazard in communities across the U.S.
“We see in the United States that more people die due to extreme heat than all other natural disasters combined,” she said. “So heat is really seen as this silent killer.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of their vulnerability to heat, a lot of [cities and towns] aren’t aware of their vulnerability to heat and so what we are seeing in Indiana is that a lot of communities aren’t yet planning for the extreme heat disaster.”
She advised that people try to stay in shady areas on hot days, stay hydrated and even though it can be a contributor to climate change, use air-conditioning when possible. She said it’s important to understand a person’s vulnerability to heat, older adults or small children, for instance, can be more at risk.
The climate change issue is compounded by the changing landscapes in cities and towns, where commercial and residential development adds more heat-absorbing surfaces.
“Across the United States we’re seeing that heat waves are starting earlier in the season and that is a really important time for us to be responding to extreme heat for communities,” she said. “It takes about two weeks for our bodies to climatize to heat so these early heat waves are when communities and individuals can really be caught off guard because their bodies aren’t ready to respond to that.
“But as you can see today, temperatures are going to be getting up in the high 90s in a lot of Indiana and our communities just aren’t used to seeing these temperatures in the middle of June.”
But she sees the days getting hotter, with more frequent weather events.
“We can expect to have more extreme heat events, we can expect them to last longer,” she said. “So it’s important for our communities to really begin planning for this now so that when an extreme heat crisis happens that they are prepared to respond.”
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