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'Citizen scientists' to track summer heat in Wilkes-Barre, Scranton

Eighteen communities will take part in NOAA's Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign
Eighteen communities will take part in NOAA's Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign

Citizen scientists will spend time this summer tracking just how hot the neighborhoods of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre actually get.

“We’re going to go in a straight line, so we’re going to go through about 25 towns,” said Thomas McGroarty. He’s Public Health Preparedness Coordinator for Northeast Pennsylvania with the state Department of Health.

McGroarty is working on the route volunteer drivers or cyclists will take to track summer temperatures in the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area. It’s part of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Urban Heat Island Mapping Campaign for 2023.

“It made sense to look at the floor of the Wyoming Valley,” he said. “Is there a difference between what’s recorded at the airport, the higher elevation and maybe less concrete and blacktop as along the floor of the valleys?”

Urban Heat Islands are areas with few trees and more pavement that absorbs heat. Morgan Zabow, Community Heat and Health Information Coordinator for NOAA, says these areas can be significantly hotter than others.

“This can lead to cities being, in some instances, 15 to 20 degrees hotter than… nearby rural or vegetated areas,” she said. “And since approximately 80 percent of Americans live in cities, this is a large number of the population that is being exposed to these higher temperatures.”

The Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area is one of 18 communities that will participate in the study which is in its seventh year. Zabow said previous participants have used the data to target areas in need of things like cooling centers, extra shade structures or splash pads in parks.

“Yes, our temperatures are getting hotter and communities are feeling that impact,” she said. “By doing this study and implementing solutions, it only helps us in the long run.”

McGroarty lives in Wilkes-Barre himself. He’ll be coordinating volunteers with the help of the Wilkes-Barre and Lackawanna County health departments, the Emergency Management Agencies of Luzerne and Lackawanna counties, and others.

To volunteer, McGroarty says to contact the emergency management agency of your county.

Sarah Scinto is the local host of Morning Edition on WVIA. She is a Connecticut native and graduate of King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, and has previously covered Northeastern Pennsylvania for The Scranton Times-Tribune, The Citizens’ Voice and Greater Pittston Progress.

You can email Sarah at sarahscinto@wvia.org