New Orleans Was Already a 'Heat Island.' Then Ida Cut the Power

Sunday's hurricane Ida, which was stronger than 2020's Hurricane Laura, made landfall in Louisiana. The electrical infrastructure was destroyed by winds of 150 mph, leaving one million people without electricity. All eight transmission lines to New Orleans were cut.
The temperatures are now in the 90s and there is intense humidity. This is causing Louisiana to enter a multilayered crisis. Residents without a generator will be without fans or air-conditioning if they don't have power. Entergy claims power won't be restored for at least three weeks. However, local officials say it could take up to a month. At a press conference on Tuesday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards stated that while I am not satisfied with 30 day, Entergy employees aren't satisfied with 30 day. That is not enough for anyone who needs power.

New Orleans, and other cities with heat islands already in their landscapes, are the worst affected. These areas are those without enough trees and other green spaces. The built environment absorbs sunlight energy during the day and slowly releases it at night. Urban temperatures can reach 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than those in rural areas. The bad news is that Climate Central published an analysis in July showing that New Orleans' heat island effect is worse than any other American city.

This video will show you what climate-crisis hell looks. According to Barry Keim, a climate scientist at Louisiana State University and also state climatologist, the entire region is already extremely hot and humid during the summer. Add in urban heat island impacts which only make matters worse, and the air conditioner is dead. This is a recipe to disaster.

Cities can become heat islands due to a variety of factors. Concrete, asphalt, brick, and other materials absorb heat very well. Even though the ambient air is cooler at night, dense materials are able to release less heat so they can still retain heat when the sun rises the next day. Vivek Shandas from Portland State University, a climate adaptation scientist, has observed the heat island effect in Portland and New Orleans. According to Shandas, New Orleans now faces a string of hot days after Hurricane Ida.

Also, the structure of the built environment plays a significant role. Tall buildings trap heat in the downtown area by blocking sunlight and blocking wind. Buildings can also produce heat, especially factories or vent hot air from air conditioners.

This is similar to rural areas with trees. When the sun hits a forest or grassland it absorbs the energy and releases water vapor. A green space can sweat to cool the air, which makes temperatures more bearable.

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If every city had trees, it would be cool. Shandas says that temperatures can vary from block to block in New Orleans. Brick buildings retain heat more effectively than wood ones, while fat-freeways enjoy the sun. If buildings are interspersed by trees and have plenty of green space like parks, it helps to cool the air.

Shandas and other researchers collected 75,000 temperature readings from New Orleans last August. The coolest places were around 88 degrees while the hottest reached 102 degrees. Shandas believes it has to do primarily with green space. However, it also has to do a lot with the layout of buildings and the materials used to build them.