Urban heat island effect may shield cities from extreme cold

Jiachuan Yang and Elie Bou-Zeid. Should Cities Embrace Their Heat Islands as Shields from Extreme Cold? JAMC, https://doi.org/10.1175/JAMC-D-17-0265.1

The higher temperature in cities relative to their rural surroundings, known as the urban heat island (UHI), is one of the most well documented and severe anthropogenic modifications of the environment. Heat islands are hazardous to residents and the sustainability of cities during summertime and heat waves; on the other hand, they provide considerable benefits in wintertime. Yet, the evolution of UHIs during cold waves has not yet been explored. In this study, ground-based observations from 12 U.S. cities and high-resolution weather simulations show that UHIs not only warm urban areas in the winter but also further intensify during cold waves by up to 1.32° ± 0.78°C (mean ± standard deviation) at night relative to precedent and subsequent periods. Anthropogenic heat released from building heating is found to contribute more than 30% of the UHI intensification. UHIs thus serve as shelters against extreme-cold events and provide benefits that include mitigating cold hazard and reducing heating demand. More important, simulations indicate that standard UHI mitigation measures such as green or cool roofs reduce these cold-wave benefits to different extents. Cities, particularly in cool and cold temperate climates, should hence revisit their policies to favor (existing) mitigation approaches that are effective only during hot periods.

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