We all know how much our surroundings influence the temperatures we experience. A hot, humid day in a bustling city of concrete, glass, and steel feels far more oppressive than the same day spent in a lushly wooded park or on a breezy beach.
On one of the hottest days of the blisteringly hot summer of 2022, locations around the city of Norwalk, Connecticut, saw a range of high temperatures. Calf Pasture Beach, at the shore, hit 96 degrees, while a mile inland, sensors at East Norwalk train station and Naramake Elementary School each clocked a high of 104 degrees.
“On a hot day, I’m thinking about multiple aspects,” says Yaprak Onat, assistant director of research for CIRCA, the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation at UConn Avery Point. “One is how can people cool down if they don’t have a place like a cooling shelter or a park? Also, how hot will it be at night? We are relying on the evening to release that heat-related stress, but if you’re not getting that relief, that’s also a problem.”
When nighttime temperatures stay above 91 degrees — called “tropical nights” — emergency rooms see an uptick in conditions like heat stress. After several tropical nights in a row, the trend gets increasingly worse. This most adversely affects people who are older, poorer, and have certain health conditions — they’re more vulnerable to the consequences of a warming world and tend to have the fewest resources, says CIRCA executive director James O’Donnell.
By mid-century, Connecticut could see as many as 40 tropical nights per year, quadrupled from the current 10. Nights that spur increasingly oppressive days.
“We’ve had people walk two miles in 100-degree heat to our office for an appointment” because they need their benefits that badly, says Tania Parrent, supervisor of senior services at Family and Children’s Agency in Norwalk. If they had called ahead, the agency would have gotten these senior citizens a ride, but many clients don’t call. “We make them sit here and we call an ambulance. We’ve seen people get really sick. We see it every year,” says Parrent.
The homeless and precariously housed population is also at great risk from the heat. Some low-income folks live in their cars and cannot afford to waste gas by running the air conditioning. Many of them are creative about cooling off.
“We know one man, he gets resourceful; finds a cross breeze beneath an underpass by the water, for example,” says Parrent. “People also cool off at the park, or at the beach.”