Loss of Tree Canopy Can Pose Health Risks

By BRAD MCCLENNY, The Gainesville Sun

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Gainesville residents are no strangers to heat. It’s the home of the Swamp, after all.

In 1965, Robert Cade, a scientist at the University of Florida, created Gatorade as a way for Florida football players to combat the intense Gainesville heat during practices and games. His creation revolutionized hydration.

While hydration is critical here in July and August, shade helps as well.

Gainesville is known for its urban tree canopy but there are places where staying cool is hard. Places where heat can climb higher than usual and temperatures spike above the surrounding areas. These spots are being called heat islands.

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Kip Bricker, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jacksonville, said “they can occur especially in the downtown city areas where there is a lot of concrete. You can get temperatures that are unusually warmer because the concrete can hold the heat better.”

Visiting several spots around the city over the past week, the Gainesville Sun found as much as a six-degree difference between sunny and shady areas.

Six-degree swings from sun to shade

A set of readings at Depot Park near the playground on Friday shortly after noon found 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun, and 98.5 degreest in the shade.

In the courtyard at the Shoppes at Thornebrooke, it was 101.5 degrees in the sun but 97.6 degrees nearby in the shade.

The hottest reading was at the Rosa Park RTS Downtown Bus Station, where it was 104.1 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun and 98.7 degrees in the shade at 1 p.m.

The average temperature this past June was 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit, almost three degrees warmer than the historical average for the month, according to the National Weather Service in Jacksonville.

“When heat index values are 108-112 degrees Fahrenheit we will issue a heat advisory,” Bricker said. When this happens it is important to stay cool and stay hydrated and always be aware of the heat.

Michael Espinosa said he takes his two children to the community pools and they sometimes go to the Oaks Mall, where it is air-conditioned. But now that the splash pad has reopened at Depot Park, Espinosa says he brings his kids there all the time.

Espinosa, who has lived in Gainesville since 2002, said that he has always thought of Gainesville as a tree-canopied city.

“I feel like Gainesville is really good about that, but I think about places like down Archer Road where you have a lot of sprawl, where you have big huge parking lots, it’s defiantly hotter there,” said Espinosa.

If you decide to go out in the heat here are a few things to think about.

“Wear loose clothing, get in the shade, ice might be good, get water, take frequent breaks from the sun if you are working outside,” Bricker said. “if you notice signs of nausea, dizziness, heavy sweating, or any weakness, these are the signs of heat exhaustion.”

“The signs of heat stroke are more extreme and confusion will set in,” said Bricker

If you are experiencing these symptoms, call 911.

Is Gainesville building more heat islands?

In 2020, Gainesville was recognized by the United Nations and the Arbor Day Foundation as a “tree city of the world.” There were only 59 cities that received the designation for dedication to urban forestry.

But new development in the last few years has led to the loss of hundreds of acres of green space. Much of the land has been replaced with parking lots, stores and residential developments.

Thomas Clanton, professor of applied physiology and kinesiology at UF, said the result is more heat islands. “Right now we are losing a lot of the tree canopy that protects us in Gainesville,” Clanton said.

“There is a cost to the type of development going on in Gainesville,” Clanton said.

Clanton said that could be mitigated by developments that blend into the surrounding green space rather than replacing it with concrete and asphalt that trap heat.

The people affected the most are those living in urban areas and those who work outside.

“One of the primary problems we are seeing in workers who are outside in the heat a lot is acute kidney failure,” said Clanton. Heart disease can also be a problem for those who are exposed to extreme heat.

According to Clanton, who studies heatstroke, people need to know that they can get into trouble pretty quickly. The heat can get you if you are not paying attention. Confusion and dehydration can set in quickly. People need to be aware of the risk of overexposure when they are going out in heat.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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