Keeping My Cool

from Wildlife Promise

It’s been a hot year so far in D.C. (Photo: Trishhhh – Flickr)

As a California transplant to Washington D.C., my first six months have been full of new experiences. Riding the subway to and from work every day? Check. Deciphering the grid layout of streets? Got it down (with the help of smart-phones). The ever present sounds of traffic and the not-so-dark night times? Took a while, but I’m used to it. However, the one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the heat. I expected at least a couple months of chilly temperatures in February and March, but instead I found myself constantly overdressed and uncomfortably hot. April and May seemed to skip spring and jump straight to sweltering summer days.

As it turns out, I arrived just in time to experience D.C.’s warmest recorded spring, with March, April, and May averaging 5.4 degrees hotter than normal (and 1.5 degrees higher than the previous 1977 record). Like most cities, D.C. suffers from the urban heat island effect: the high concentration of materials like concrete, steel, and asphalt retain the sun’s heat much more than natural surfaces, raising the average temperature of the city and surrounding area. Combined with the already increased temperatures due to climate change, D.C. was practically boiling this “Spring.” So what could we really expect from Summer other than a record-setting 9-day streak of 95+ degree temperatures in June and the second hottest July on record?

Visitors to the National Mall look to to beat the heat in the shade of trees and the Washington Monument (Photo: david_jones – Flickr)

To put it simply, it’s been a sweaty start to my life in the District, and to compensate I’ve been constantly seeking shade. I’m definitely not the only one looking for ways to cope with the realities of our the new climate. As the temperature rises, many cities are relying on nature-based solutions, like green infrastructure, to be better prepared for the impacts of climate change. D.C., for example, has committed to maintaining and expanding its population of trees, and hopes to reach 40 percent coverage by 2035. Everyone knows that shade from trees helps beat the heat immediately beneath the leaves, but an increased urban tree canopy can actually help combat the urban heat island effect and lower the overall temperature of the city.  More trees also means more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere, helping lessen the extent of climate change yet to come. But humans aren’t the only ones receiving these benefits: a healthier and larger urban canopy means more habitat and cool places for wildlife like Northern cardinals, green herons, and cerulean warblers (a highly-threatened migrant species).

Urban tree canopy enhancement is just one of many strategies that cities across the country are adopting to prepare for the ongoing and future effects of climate change. If you’d like to learn more about what NWF is doing to help cities and towns become better prepared for the future, check out the new Climate-Smart Communities page on our website.