Thursday, April 12, 2012

4/12 - 5pm - Louisville Heat Island Research

It's finished. Since January I've been working on a bit of research that seeks to explain roughly how much the urban heat island effect is skewing the temperatures at Louisville International Airport (KSDF) compared to the rest of the city. Even though I completed this paper for honors credit in my applied climatology class at Mississippi State, this is a project I've been wanting to undertake since my high school years. (See update at bottom of post)

Louisville International Airport
As a kid growing up in Louisville, KY I realized through watching countless TV weathercasts and reading many weather discussions that the high and low temperatures at the airport were considerably warmer than the rest of the city. Louisville has a well-documented heat island region in the center and northern portions of town where the highest concentration of development is, and consequently the increased heat from this area greatly influences the official temperatures at Louisville International Airport. This wasn't always the case. For many years the official measurements were taken at the suburban National Weather Service office off of Smyrna Road in Louisville. These measurements were not as skewed by this effect because it is in an area of trees, vegetation, and suburban housing instead of airport apron, large swaths of roadway, and urban development. This research puts a degree number on how much these measurements at the airport are affected by the heat island.

The time was right back in January to start on this research because climate records from internet-connected personal weather stations around the city have now been available for quite a few years for a good comparison. Not only that, but I feel that I've come far enough in my weather education to do something like this without having holes in understanding block my path. This is research that deals with simple averages and simple data, but I feel that the simplicity makes it powerful. Limited data and manpower put some constraints on this research, but the end result is what I believe to be a good rough estimate. I do offer suggestions for future research, which could maybe lead to some changes in how records are being kept within the city. This is a matter I feel strongly about because these airport temperature measurements in my opinion are not representing the city well, and there's quite a bit of explanation about that inside the paper. Give it a read and tell me what you think in the comments section below!

UPDATE: Mark Jarvis, senior forecaster at NWS Louisville, emailed with information saying that the temperature sensor at KSDF was changed in June 2011 and apparently the anomaly between KSDF temperatures and those in surrounding areas is not as great as it once was due to this. A study will be conducted by the NWS this summer to see how the sensor is performing. This does not change the 2009-2010 data and results I obtained in my paper above.

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