Check out our video at the #Sandy5 march, where 5,000 New Yorkers gathered to ask the local authorities for quicker and more sustainable solutions to face the upcoming extreme weather challenges of the future.
In 1896, when a massive heat wave hit New York, it was not city government’s problem.
For 10 days that summer, outdoor temperatures rocketed above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, reaching up to 120 degrees inside old brick tenement buildings. Ice companies jacked up the price of ice, horses fainted by the hundreds, and by the end of the heat wave, nearly 1,500 New Yorkers had died.
The mayor didn’t call an emergency meeting with his department heads until the emergency was almost over. But it was that summer, according to historian Edward Kohn, that a giant shift in government’s role took place.
A young Theodore Roosevelt was the city’s police commissioner at the time, and seeing that the mayor wasn’t acting, he took matters into his own hands. He opened up the police precinct on the Lower East Side and handed out ice to the poor immigrants living in tenements there.
“For Theodore Roosevelt to say, ‘Well, no, the government should be responsible — should purchase this ice and hand it out for free’ — that was a pretty radical notion,” said Kohn, the author of Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt.
The notion is no longer radical. The city tackles extreme heat today through long- and short-term strategies. But some of its initiatives are poorly executed or stuck in the planning stages. An estimated 140 people still die every year due to heat. Continue reading →
(UPDATED SEPT. 12) As AdaptNY’s Harlem Heat Project evolves, we’re not just gathering indoor heat data from residents there. We’re also inviting our community collaborators to share their heat-related stories. With the help of our project partner ISeeChange, the citizens of Harlem can offer their insights and observations as the summer season brings heat, and occasional relief. See a few selections below. And tell us your own Harlem Heat story here, or for mobile users, via the Apple app here.
“This summer has been over the top. I live in an SRO with limited space, and buying an air conditioner and having it installed is a problem. It’s not easy. I have to figure out a way to do it because it was unbearable and my fan did nothing. My windows are open, too, but it was just not enough. Previous years, back in the day, I had my own personal space so I could take a bath, but here, we share bathrooms and kitchens. There is an air conditioned tenant room, but those folding chairs are not designed to sit in for a length of time; what’a worse: sitting in a folding chair or in your room? Plus, for some reason, our buses have been very slow, coming every 30 minutes instead of 10 minutes, so you’re sitting or standing waiting.” — Euline Williams, Washington Heights
“Every year, when things get humid, it’s like a cooking pot. There’s a bad odor, I think coming through the window. I’m not sure if it’s sewage or old building materials like lead or mold, activated by the heat. It used to be worse when Riverbank State Park had the waste treatment plant. Now it thickens and gets musty when it gets humid.” — Raquel Morrison, Harlem
After sitting in her un-airconditioned fifth-floor apartment as the temperature surpassed 90 degrees Fahrenheit for several days in a row, 69-year-old Helen called 911.
“I couldn’t deal the heat,” she says with some difficulty. “It was too hot for me, and then I had feel weak.”
An ambulance brought her from her building in East Harlem to Mount Sinai Hospital, where she was admitted for heat exhaustion. She has a few medical issues, including a stomach problem. And her daughter says she’s stubborn: She doesn’t drink water when she knows she’s supposed to.
“My head start to hurt, and then I start to throw up and I had feel a little dizzy a little,” says Helen, a fictitious name made up to protect her privacy.
She talks from the hospital bed with her eyes closed. She doesn’t want to leave the hospital and go back to her hot apartment.
“Oh, God. The fan ain’t doing no good, at all,” Helen says. “With this heat? No, I can’t do that.”
Elderly people like Helen, young children and others with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat. Public health professionals say air conditioning — even just a couple minutes of it — is the best way to lessen the effects of extreme heat. Continue reading →
Fact: Heat can kill. Some people may just feel uncomfortable when it’s hot, but for others the high temperatures and humid air can cause real harm and lead to untimely death.
Fact: Sick people are more likely to be affected by the heat. When someone suffers from chronic conditions like heart disease or even alcohol addiction, it can worsen the body’s ability to cope with sweltering summers.
Fact: The heat is very much intertwined with economics and social structures. Many heat sufferers are affected much more than others simply because of where they live, their financial situations, or even their ethnicities.
Here are 14 facts about how New Yorkers experience the heat and its effects. Continue reading →
Call it the Blazing 2000s.
While New York’s temperate climate may not conjure up the image of a sweltering desert, the city has seen numerous stretches of scorching temperatures almost every year since 2001 – often three or four heat waves annually and sometimes as many as half a dozen.
In the past month alone, New York has been hit with a pair of five-day heat waves, the first July 21-25 and the latest Aug. 11-15, per data from the National Weather Service.
We’ve put together the infographic below for a quick look at New York’s recent heat wave history. Continue reading →
New York’s July heat wave may not have made the record books — it only hit five consecutive days of 90-plus degree weather, according to the National Weather Service — but ask New Yorkers and we all can agree that the humidity and trapped heat in and around our homes were nothing to write off. We put together this recap: Continue reading →
Tammy has lived on the 18th floor of the same public housing building her whole life.
She didn’t have air conditioning — until she could afford to buy her own unit when she was well into her 30s.
“A brand new, big, AC,” she said with a laugh. “But it took a long time to get to that point.”
Air conditioning in New York City public housing is rare. Less than half of the homes have air conditioning. That means tens of thousands of some of the lowest income residents don’t. By contrast, almost 90 percent of all New Yorkers have air conditioning. Continue reading →
UPDATED: This week’s heat wave in New York, which brought the city five consecutive days of 90 degree+ temperatures from July 21-25, may have felt like it would never end.
In fact, it didn’t even make the city’s top 30 longest heat waves. It fell a full week short of the record 12-day heat wave in 1953, and several days short of a string of record heat waves the city has suffered in its history.
But looking ahead, indications are there’s worse to come. The NYC Panel on Climate Change reports that as the 21st century progresses, temperatures of extreme heat will become more and more frequent and the prevalence of heat waves will triple by the 2080s.
AdaptNY has compiled data from National Weather Service, based on temperatures measured at its Central Park station, for an infographic below that illustrates the longest heat waves in the city’s last century or so.
We’ve also put together a quick look at some of the city’s extreme high temperature events – some hotter, some longer lasting, some more deadly, some leaving the city in darkness with power outages. Continue reading →
The latest issue of New York Magazine has a well-researched piece that looks at how cities around the world are combatting rising temperatures and cooling themselves off, including with the use of wind, water and urban greenery.
There’s an description of efforts to implement cool roofs in New York City, which reporter Edward Hart says like other metropolises faces triple the number of days over 90 degrees:
In Manhattan alone, there’s up to 40 square miles of rooftop space, making rooftops a huge source of untapped potential in the fight against city heat. The black asphalt on many New York roofs can reach 190 degrees on a summer day. Through the NYC CoolRoofs program, the city has helped reduce the surface temperature on 6 million square feet of scorching asphalt by using lighter-colored coating that reflects more of the sun’s rays and absorbs less heat. The city plans on keeping apace of a million square feet of new roofing each year. By one estimate, this could ultimately cool New York’s air temperature by about two degrees. And these white roofs undoubtedly help lessen the urban-heat-island effect. They have an ancillary benefit too. Because the rooftops absorb less heat, the internal temperatures of buildings can be significantly lower, cutting down air-conditioning bills and reducing carbon emissions.