CHARLESTON, S.C. — The hallmarks of summer include the shining sun and stifling heat and humidity.
“It is getting hotter. Absolutely,” said Mark Wilbert, a senior policy adviser on resilience for the Mayor’s Office in Charleston, South Carolina.
No one knows heat and humidity quite like the South, and Charleston is a place that is no stranger to hot summers.
“That's the first answer from many people in the South: it's always hot in Charleston or it always floods in Charleston, you know?” Wilbert said. “But we are beginning to see people say, ‘It's really hot.’”
But just how hot is it getting?
This summer, the Centers for Disease Control, NOAA, and the National Weather Service will conduct a national study looking at “urban heat islands” to find out. It’s something they have been looking into for several years now.
“We're really going to focus on that heat inequalities that exist in our city,” Wilbert said. “If it does, then what kind of steps can we take to begin to make changes?”
In addition to Charleston, the study is also taking place in 11 other states across the country, in places like New York, Atlanta, Albuquerque, San Diego and Kansas City, along with communities in Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, and Massachusetts.
The study won’t just involve trained scientists; it will also involve so-called “citizen scientists.” They’ll drive around neighborhoods with special devices attached to their cars, working across multiple square miles to measure heat.
Over at The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, Lt. Col. Scott Curtis monitors data from this outdoor weather station every day.
“With Charleston being surrounded on all sides by water, we have really high humidity as well,” said Lt. Col. Curtis, who is director of the Citadel’s Near Center for Climate Studies.
He will also be gathering volunteers to measure heat for the nationwide study.
“We're going get a lot of good data that's going to be helpful for understanding extreme heat,” he said.
It is heat that can also impact the military and its service members.
“With a lot of the training that goes on, you know, they're exposed to heat,” Lt. Col. Curtis said. “And so, we have to understand just how hot it can get and what that does to the body and what the stress level is going to be.”
It is potentially critical information about handling the heat in a warming world.