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Taking NYC’s temperature with a thermal camera

The urban heat island effect can be deadly

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Cities around the world are running a fever. City-dwellers suffer through more sweltering temperatures in the summertime than people who live in greener areas nearby. It’s a dangerous consequence of living in what scientists call an “urban heat island.” What’s worse is that the urban heat island effect makes some neighborhoods within a city, usually those with more low-income residents and people of color, even hotter than others. 

The problem is that cities were built in a way that traps heat. Satellites can see this phenomenon from space. Scientists working with NASA have used satellite data to map changes in surface temperatures from suburbs to cities, and from affluent neighborhoods to communities that have received less investment over time.  

Taking cities’ temperatures and finding ways to cool them down is a matter of life and death. Extreme heat has killed more people on average each year in the US than any other weather-related event over the past 30 years. 

The Verge hit the streets of New York City with thermal cameras to see if we could find our own evidence of the urban heat island effect. We were pretty shocked to see just how bad it was in the Big Apple. To see for yourself, check out our video above. You can also see our data in the map below.

You can view the full interactive version here.

The map above shows which neighborhoods in New York City are considered the most “heat-vulnerable.” In heat-vulnerable East Harlem, The Verge documented average land surface temperatures reaching as high as 110 degrees Fahrenheit. That was more than 20 degrees hotter than readings we took in the affluent Upper East Side. The Verge took these readings with a thermal camera on June 24, 2021, when air temperatures at the nearest NOAA weather station in Central Park only reached a high of 77 degrees.