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Volunteers use sensors on cars to measure, map out hottest spots of Salt Lake City

Posted at 5:09 PM, Jul 15, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — With hot summer temperatures across the state of Utah and the world, a team of scientists and volunteers is trying to learn more about where the hottest parts of Salt Lake City are. On Saturday, volunteers drove around to collect some of that data.

“There’s an old saying that you can’t manage what you don’t measure, and I think today is the first steps in establishing those baselines,” said Chris Knoles, one of the volunteers.

The volunteers picked up a probe, put it on their car, and were assigned a specific route to drive through.

There were 10 pre-determined routes and three different timeslots for people to drive around and collect data. The probe measures the temperature and humidity every second and the GPS tracker maps it out.

“It allows cities to map the distribution of heat on a hot day in the summer,” said Robert Wilson, a science teacher at Rowland Hall and program coordinator for the NOAA heat watch program in Salt Lake City, with the Utah Climate Center.

The three slots were 6-7 a.m., 3-4 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.

“So we’ll be able to compare those routes to each other because they are sampled at the same time of day, and then we’ll be able to compare how the temperatures change throughout the day because we’re doing the same routes at different times,” explained Wilson.

The goal is to find patterns that make certain areas hotter than others and come up with solutions.

“We’ll identify those hottest areas, and then try to find ways that we can cool them down, or otherwise find relief for the people who live there," Wilson said. "So it might be planting trees, it might be tearing up concrete, might be an opportunity for a splash pad, maybe there’s a need for a cooling center."

“I hope that we learn where we need to send resources — which areas have more heat gain and implement mitigation and help that area,” said volunteer Roxanne Christensen.

“We thought this is really going to help and we would learn something from it, which we have. This has been a very eye-opening experience, so we’re glad that we stepped up,” Knoles said.

Experts will start getting the data back in about 6-8 weeks with maps and figures. In the long term, the city and community council can use the analysis to guide design and infrastructure decisions.

“I think if everybody is a little more aware and participating, I think we’ll have big changes,” said Christensen.