NOAA 03-107
Contact: John Leslie
NOAA News Releases 2003
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A new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study of temperatures in America’s rural and city areas has prompted some scientists to reassess their understanding of the “Urban Island Heat” effect. The analysis, conducted by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, N.C., indicates the temperatures of urban areas when compared to nearby rural locations are about the same. The analysis will be published in the latest issue of The Journal Of Climate. NOAA is an agency in the Department of Commerce.

The term Urban Heat Island refers to the well-documented fact that cities – with more buildings and roads and less grass and trees – are warmer than nearby rural areas.

Thomas C. Peterson, a climate expert at NCDC, conducted the study based on information from 289 rural and urban weather stations throughout the nation. He said the major difference in his analysis from previous urban heat studies is that he considered other factors that could influence the temperature observations.

Once NCDC adjusted the data to account for all other factors that cause differences in temperature readings, from the time of day the temperatures were recorded to the elevation of the station, differences between the rural and urban temperatures we examined were very small.

“This is not to say that Urban Heat Islands do not exist. Major highway intersections and industrial centers of cities may well be significantly warmer than rural areas,” said Peterson. But weather stations are more likely to be located in parks than industrial areas and other research has indicated that urban parks can be significantly cooler than the industrial parts of towns.”

Peterson also noted, “Rural sites are not necessarily pristine. Land use changes around rural sites – whether it is the growth of trees or the paving of driveways – can also impact temperature observations.”

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