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The strange but true reason why this town is always hotter than anywhere else in New Jersey
The strange but true reason why this town is always hotter than anywhere else in New Jersey

Reading that the weather forecast predicts 90 degrees is one thing.

Standing in Newark at lunchtime on a summer Tuesday is something else entirely: the sun is blazing, a heat warning is beeping on your phone (which is constantly overheating), sweat is dripping so heavily from your forehead that wiping it with a towel provides relief for only a few seconds.

Brick City residents live in a place that, according to new climate research, will not only suffer hotter days – made worse by human-caused climate change – but will also be at the epicenter of the worst heat effects in the entire country.

As Newark authorities warned that the local heat index would soon rise above 100 degrees and called for cooling centers to open, a 61-year-old contractor named Calvin Hendricks paused outside a corner store on South 19th Street.

“That’s what I do, take breaks,” Hendricks explained of his regimen to cope with the sweltering days in his hometown. “I drink water to cope, and juice – I drink mostly juice.”

Sometimes the answer is to do nothing. Although Hendricks used to work outside as a garbage collector, he now offers his gardening and painting services exclusively to Inside Jobs. He was on his way to such an appearance on Tuesday – but on particularly hot days he will not work at all.

“It is the low-income people and communities that are suffering the most,” he said of the extreme heat in Newark.

New research shows how right Hendricks is and how big the excitement will be.

Newark is among 12 U.S. cities where “more than eight in 10 people are exposed to at least 8 degrees Fahrenheit more heat due to the ‘urban heat island effect,'” nonprofit Climate Central said in new temperature data released Wednesday.

Newark is also a diverse city with a predominantly black population and is already surrounded by a variety of emissions from a variety of sources.

“Urban heat islands (UHI) are areas – typically in the city or suburbs – that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas,” Shel Winkley, a meteorologist at Climate Central, told NJ Advance Media.

Specifically, 97% of Newark’s population – or 302,784 people – are experiencing an urban heat island index of 8 degrees or more, the group found.

“Buildings, roads, sidewalks and concrete surfaces that were once planted absorb and emit solar heat more than green spaces,” Winkley explained. “This can lead to a temperature difference of up to 8 to 11 degrees.”

Climate Central last week found that New Jersey is the third-fastest warming state in the country. Warming oceans along the Garden State’s coast and increased development in parts of the state are contributing to the rapid pace, experts said.

Although average annual temperatures in the U.S. have risen by about 2.5 degrees since 1970, annual temperatures in New Jersey have risen by about 3.5 degrees, the nonprofit’s analysis found.

How do we know global warming is a factor?

While the state is feeling the effects of El Niño – a weather phenomenon that actually contributes to higher temperatures – and natural weather fluctuations, Winkley said there is clear evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is having a negative impact here.

“The main reason for this temperature increase is the fact that we have polluted our atmosphere with things like carbon pollution – so from burning coal, oil and natural gas,” Winkley said. “We know this because we have put 50% more carbon dioxide and 160% more methane into the atmosphere compared to pre-industrial times… and we know that both of these are heat-trapping gases that are now in our atmosphere.”

The urban heat island effect is affecting communities across the country — and particularly Newark, New Jersey, where about 119,000 people feel 9 degrees hotter than elsewhere because of the city’s nature, according to the nonprofit organization Climate Central.

Mosquitoes, trees and heat waves

Winkley, the Climate Central meteorologist, said other New Jersey cities bearing the brunt of the urban heat island effect include:

  • Camden (UHI between +6.5° and +9.5°F)
  • Willingboro Township (UHI +7.3° to +8.1°)
  • Bridgeport (UHI +7.2°)
  • Atlantic City (UHI +7.7° to +9.8°)
  • Marmora (UHI +11°)
  • Brigantine (UHI +11.5°)
  • Trenton (UHI: +8° to +9.2°)
  • Princeton: (UHI: +6.3° to +8°)

“Urban heat islands already expose their residents to disproportionate heat risks and cooling costs that will only continue to rise as long as carbon pollution drives up global temperatures,” Jennifer Brady, senior data analyst at Climate Central, said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Unless cities take action to cool these areas, the people living there will face the worst impacts of climate change.”

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection cited additional figures from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey on its new online portal that provides at-risk citizens with resources to cope with extreme heat.

The survey found that about 9 percent of U.S. households do not have air conditioning, and nearly 12 percent of those households are below the poverty line.

“In addition to those who do not have air conditioning,” the NJDEP says, “lower socioeconomic groups sometimes choose not to operate their air conditioning systems due to rising energy costs.”

Other findings from Climate Central’s new report on urban heat islands include:

  • In the 65 cities studied, nearly 34 million people live in census blocks with a UHI index of 8 degrees F or higher.
  • Other hottest neighborhoods in the country include Fort Myers, Florida, New York City, New York and San Antonio, Texas
  • Heat stress in cities is “unequally distributed and linked to a history of racist housing policies,” Climate Central said. The nonprofit organization pointed to another analysis by Columbia University that showed that in 150 of 179 large U.S. cities, areas historically redlined are currently experiencing hotter summers than non-redlined areas.

Climate Central’s Winkley said New Jersey is expected to see not only the hottest days, snowier winters and longer, earlier-starting summers, but also other impacts of the heat.

Warmer ocean waters, which fuel hurricanes, will make storms stronger. Heat waves like those we’ve seen this summer will become more frequent. And nighttime heat, which has already increased, could also increase further.

There will also be a “longer pest season,” said Winkley. In Atlantic City, for example, there are already 23 more mosquitoes on days than in 1979.

In addition to providing more resources to residents in need, planting trees and increasing vegetation is also key to curbing the impacts of the urban heat island effect, according to Climate Central officials. To address the heat problem more broadly, climate activists continue to push for laws to protect outdoor workers and to provide more resources and funding to those most in need.

Read more about Climate Central’s latest urban heat analysis here.

For more information about NJDEP’s resources for dealing with the heat, visit heat-hub-new-jersey-njdep.hub.arcgis.com/. For more information and a list of cooling centers in New Jersey, visit nj211.org/nj-cooling-centers.

“It’s the low-income people and communities that are suffering the most,” Calvin Hendricks, 61, said of the extreme heat facing people in Newark and elsewhere in New Jersey.

By Seren