Cities are key culprits in weather shifts

Heat island effect, metro Phoenix

[Source: Shaun McKinnon, Arizona Republic] — In the old comic books, the vilest super-villains brandished an exotic weather-control device to threaten the world’s cities.  Turns out all the villains really needed were the cities, whose growth increasingly influences the weather with devices no more exotic than an office building or a freeway. Those devices can raise temperatures to unhealthful levels, steer storms off course or alter their intensity, suck the rain out of clouds and may contribute to long-term climate change.  Worse, sprawling metropolises can foil efforts to forecast the weather or even track a single event.   “There’s no doubt man has impacted his local environment,” said Tony Haffer, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service in Phoenix.  “It’s reached the point that it’s more than just meteorologists and climatologists looking at this.  Engineers that build and plan cities are looking for ways of mitigating the effects of putting in more concrete and asphalt.”

The real-life power of urban areas to shape and reshape weather and climate is the theme of the American Meteorological Society’s national conference, which runs through this week at the Phoenix Convention Center.  More than 2,000 meteorologists, climatologists and even a few engineers are expected to attend.  The program includes discussions about public-policy issues, but the intent isn’t to deliver solutions or formal recommendations as much as it is to support the scientists searching for the solutions.  Some of the research presented this week will offer concrete ideas for businesses or governments to use, while other projects will guide future studies.

Phoenix provides a fitting backdrop for the gathering: It was here that scientists conducted some of the earliest research into the urban-heat-island effect, the increase in nighttime temperatures that occurs when buildings and roads release energy absorbed during the day.  The city’s rapid growth has given scientists a living laboratory to test theories and chart discoveries. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

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