Heat is the most common weather-related cause of death nationwide

NOW: Heat is the most common weather-related cause of death nationwide

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) --- Heat is the most common weather-related cause of death nationwide, according to the National Weather Service. Researchers are working to learn how to keep people safe. Milwaukee is one of 14 U.S. cities chosen for a national research project tracking heat trends.

Experts say the number of 90-degree days in Wisconsin is expected to triple over the next 30 years. This is concerning for many reasons as record-breaking heat has a trickle-down impact. Scientists are hoping to map out heat distribution across the city to understand what parts of Milwaukee are warmer than others.

Dan Buckler is an Urban Forester for the Wisconsin DNR. He's helping coordinate the effort.

"Urban areas are hotter than places in the countryside due to that concentration of developed spaces," said Buckler.

There's a reason why metropolitan areas are warmer.

"Asphalt, concrete and shingles are common throughout and they are absorbing rays from the sun. That heat is being absorbed and then it's being redirected back out throughout the day and the night," said Buckler.

Places where this happens are considered "Urban Heat Islands." That's why Milwaukee was chosen to be researched. Again, the goal is to determine what parts of the city are warmer than others. The project is funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

"Generally, neighborhoods that have more asphalt, more parking lots, more manmade structures, are hotter than neighborhoods that have a lot of trees or a lot of green things in them," Buckler said.

On a hot day, data will be collected by two dozen volunteers. They will be paired in teams and each team will drive around Milwaukee to predetermined locations. The teams will collect data using a device that is attached to their cars. The device has a sensor that collects the temperature and humidity as they drive. The data is stored on tiny computers attached to each device.

Experts say the project could have a big picture impact. Data collected will be analyzed and could help provide new insight into Milwaukee's warming trends, showing how much cooler it gets near the lake and giving city agencies a better idea of what resources are needed in warmer parts of the city.

Heat can be dangerous for vulnerable populations like kids, the elderly, or those with health issues. Data collected can help determine the best places to invest resources to help, like where cooling centers are most needed on hot days or where the planting of trees should be prioritized.

Experts say the results could also provide solutions for mitigating climate change. The National Weather Service is also involved and says the research could help save lives.

"Heat is the number one killer for anything weather-related. More than thunderstorms, cold. When we get these long heatwaves, it affects a lot of people," said Tim Halbach, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Milwaukee.

Data collection is expected to take place this week and results should be released before the end of the summer.

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