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Staying Cool this Summer and as the Climate Warms

Photo of Salt Lake City looking towards east-bench foothills on sunny day.
Summer in Salt Lake City can be beautiful, but rising temperatures make staying cool a challenge.

Staying cool during Utah summers is always difficult when the thermometer climbs above 90, 95, and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

This year it’s even more challenging with the necessity of staying home, and the closures or limitation on public swimming pools, splash pads, and some cooling centers.

With more people spending more time at home, utility bills and household waste have spiked.

As the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) points out, there are other ways to stay cool than by cranking up the A/C. Here are a few ideas that work especially well in our desert climate:

  • Stay Hydrated! Staying hydrated will help you stay cool and healthy, even when it’s hot! Read more about the signs of dehydration here.
  • Use your windows! Windows can be your best friend. Try to open things up at night to help cool your space down, but close the blinds or use window coverings when it starts to get hot our during the day.
  • Fans: Be strategic about box fans or overhead fans – they can help keep things cool and reduce the need for AC. But save energy by turning them off before you leave the house!
  • Optimize Space: Keep doors shut to areas you’re not using – that way you’ll be cooling a smaller space, which is more energy efficient!
  • Cook Carefully: Opting for recipes that don’t use the oven or require a long time on the stove will help keep your kitchen cooler – and may even help with your indoor air quality.
  • Switch to LED lights: Using more efficient lighting will help you save energy and money. LEDs, and other home energy efficiency improvements, can help you cut your energy bills and keep space cooler. Typical incandescent lights also put off more heat, so switching to LED reduces the heat burden in your home.

Salt Lake County Opens Two Cooling Centers this Weekend

The National Weather Service – Salt Lake City tweets about the heat risk forecast for July 11 and 12, 2020.

Thankfully, with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees over the next few days, Salt Lake County is opening the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City and the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy as cooling centers to those community members who need to escape from the heat.

The cooling centers are available Thursday, July 9 – Tuesday, July 14 from noon to 7:00 p.m. each day.

Social distancing protocols will be enforced inside the facility, and visitors are required to wear a face covering. People with symptoms of illness should refrain from coming to the facilities.

Coronavirus, Climate, and Cooling

We’re thankful the County is opening those two large facilities as cooling centers during our upcoming heat wave.

However, due to the coronavirus, the libraries, senior centers, and recreation centers we’ve relied on in the past to provide an escape from the heat have been forced to stay closed this year or limit the number of people entering.

Cool zones are especially important for community members who do not have access to air conditioned spaces or shaded areas.

In the larger context, this is another way that climate change, public health, and equity intersect.

Climate change is making things hotter everywhere, but due to the urban heat island effect, cities are often even hotter. The resulting health risks of being in hot spaces are a growing concern.

COVID-19 has shut down our neighborhood cooling zones, presenting yet another way the pandemic and the climate crisis are interconnected. Both pose a serious threat to our health and well-being. And just like COVID-19, rising temperatures disproportionately affect the financial security and health of vulnerable communities.

Climate change also has the potential of making pandemics like coronavirus more likely. Additionally, the climate crisis encompasses air quality issues, food access, and public health – all of which have implications when dealing with issues like COVID-19.

Addressing Inequities

As we’re seeing, these issues are all interconnected. Local research is showing how Salt Lake City’s West side communities are more impacted by COVID-19.

And national research is showing how exposure to higher temperatures and more air pollution lead to more negative outcomes for pregnant women, among other health impacts, and affects Black women the most.

In addition to working with County and State leaders on the COVID-19 emergency response, the City is also working on several long-term initiatives that seek to address these issues, connecting equity and the environment:

Empower SLC, a partnership between SLCgreen and Utah Clean Energy, the Empower SLC initiative was created to help improve access to energy saving resources, especially in Salt Lake’s west side neighborhoods. Energy efficiency can make homes more comfortable to inhabit and more affordable to maintain.

Empower SLC provides a home energy checklist to help everyone know how to cut energy use – and save money. These efforts have the added benefit of reducing pollution throughout Salt Lake City.

The built environment is also an important way that cities can reduce heat. While we want to save water, we also want to maintain some trees and plants in public and private spaces to clear the air, aid with stormwater runoff, and to providing shade to homes and neighborhoods.

It turns out that the availability of shade is an indicator of socioeconomic inequity in many major cities.

Mayor Mendenhall’s 1,000 trees initiative aims to plant 1,000 additional trees over what the City already plants in a year, focusing on Salt Lake City’s west side in an effort to curb air pollution and cool things off.

The City is also working to reduce pollution— both to mitigate climate change and to improve air quality.

These efforts to improve at-home energy efficiency, while also working to green our built environment, are important steps towards building resiliency throughout Salt Lake City, especially as the temperatures go up.

What are your ideas for staying cool and how the City can help?

Trees lining street in Rose Park.
Trees on a Rose Park block.

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