Aug 3, 2023 - Climate

How Austin leaders are grappling with the heat

Residents cool off in the Liz Carpenter Splash Pad at Butler Park on July 16. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images

Austin leaders and cities across the country are taking steps to address this summer's record-breaking heat, but they're largely short-term Band-Aids.

What's happening: Austin Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM) officials have turned libraries and other public buildings into cooling centers this summer, offering up free CapMetro bus rides to them for anyone who asks.

  • During excessive heat warning days, misting canopies are deployed in Republic Square Park, where the city has distributed more than 4,700 water bottles, according to HSEM spokesperson Billy Callis.
  • And the city recently rolled out a pilot program for heat-reflective coatings on pavements — which can reach 150°F — for a few degrees of temperature reduction.
A Homeland Security Emergency Management employee gives cold water to workers at Republic Park on July 16. Photo: Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images

Why it matters: It's not clear if the strategies Austin and other cities are using can keep pace with this kind of heat, writes Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson.

  • Austin-Travis County EMS officials are responding to a record-breaking number of heat-related illnesses, with 285 heat-related incidents in July, a 28% increase compared to last year, according to the department.
  • Cities are warming twice as fast as global averages due to the "urban heat island" effect.

Zoom in: The city's Office of Resilience recognizes that Austin will see increases in annual and seasonal temperatures and more frequent high-temperature extremes, according to chief resilience officer Laura Patiño.

  • The office has aimed to take a proactive approach, partnering with researchers from UT Austin and UT Health to map heat across the eastern crescent and help prioritize areas for heat mitigation, Patiño tells Axios.
  • The office also is creating a "heat playbook" to respond to future heat events in a more proactive, equitable and innovative way, Patiño added.

Between the lines: Cities will need more funding for adaptation and resilience to keep up, according to Greg Gershuny, executive director of the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program.

  • The Office of Resilience is exploring ways to take advantage of federal funding for climate adaptation, recently submitting a grant to the USDA to plant trees across the city, Patiño said.

The bottom line: "We know this is our new normal and summer days are expected to increase by the end of the century with the latest climate projections," Patiño said.

  • "We must find the right solutions in the right place and time that will allow us to communicate risk and better prepare all Austinites for extreme heat."

Dig deeper: Cities race to address the heat


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