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As summer heats up - a study could help keep Scranton and Wilkes-Barre residents cool

Stacy Atkinson and Catrina Bauer set off on their heat mapping route through South Scranton and Taylor.
Sarah Scinto
Stacy Atkinson and Catrina Bauer set off on their heat-mapping route through South Scranton and Taylor.

It’s just before six on Wednesday morning. It’s foggy and a bit cool, but once the sun breaks through, the day will be one of the hottest of the week.

That’s why Catrina Bauer of the Lackawanna County Health Department is here, affixing a heat sensor to the inside of the passenger window of an emergency management vehicle. Its antenna shoots up from the top of the window into the air, ready to gather temperature data throughout South Scranton and parts of Taylor.

“Our main goal with this heat study is to get the data that we will collect from all the runs that we do today,” Bauer said. “And to pretty much see where we can provide shelter, cooling stations… to better the community as far as heat that takes effect on our community.”

Each team used a heat watch sensor to track the actual temperatures along routes in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.
Sarah Scinto
Each team used a heat watch sensor to track the actual temperatures along routes in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties.

Bauer and Stacy Atkinson, another health department employee, were one of nine teams tracking the heat throughout Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties on Wednesday. They each patrolled their route three times - at 6 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon and 7 at night.

The local study is part of an effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to identify and address what are known as urban heat islands.

With record-breaking heat waves gripping much of the country and heat advisories issued for Luzerne and Lackawanna counties this week, Bauer says the health impacts of extreme heat have never been more evident.

“Everyone always takes in the effects when they see hurricanes and flooding, but at the end of the day, heat is the number one concern when it comes to our community,” she said.

NOAA reports extreme heat is the number one weather-related cause of death in the U.S. for the last three decades. And, according to U.N. climate scientists, this July is on track to be the hottest month on record worldwide.

Scranton and Wilkes-Barre were among 18 communities participating in this year’s study. Once the data is compiled, the two cities can use it to identify the hottest areas where things like cooling centers could be useful - and apply for grants to make improvements happen.

“I feel like it’s certain areas areas that you are where it’s hotter, certain concrete, certain asphalt where you are,” Bauer said. “Hopefully this study will prove it for us.”

Sarah Scinto is the local host of All Things Considered 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.
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