New Orleans was already a “Heat Island.” Ida Cut The power

The sun’s heat can raise temperatures dramatically in urban areas, which absorbs the energy of the city. Louisiana’s heatwave is still a result of Hurricane Irma.

The strongest hurricane to strike Louisiana was Hurricane Ida, which made landfall on Sunday. It tied 2020’s Hurricane Laura for the title. Winds topping 150 miles per hour tore apart the electrical infrastructure, leaving a million people without power. All eight transmission lines into New Orleans were severed.

Now temperatures are in the 90s, and brutal humidity–it’s summer, after all–is plunging Louisiana into a multilayered crisis: Without power, residents who don’t have a generator will also lack fans or air conditioning. The utility Entergy says power may not be restored for three weeks, but local officials warn it could be a month for some. “I’m not satisfied with 30 days, the Entergy people aren’t satisfied with 30 days,” Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said at a press conference Tuesday. “Nobody is content with this.

The misery is particularly acute in New Orleans and other cities which already form “heat islands” in the landscape. This is a place without sufficient trees and other green space where the built environment absorbs sunlight’s energy throughout the day and slowly releases it at night. Temperatures in urban areas can rise up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than those found in rural regions. The bad news is that Climate Central published an analysis in July showing New Orleans’ heat island effect to be worse than any other American city.

This is the place to go if you want to see what climate-crisis hell looks. Barry Keim from Louisiana State University, who is also state climateologist, says that “this whole region already heats and humid during the summer.” You can also add urban heat island effects, which will only make it worse, to the mix and your air conditioner system is dead. This is a recipe to disaster.

Cities can become heat islands due to a variety of factors. Brick, concrete, asphalt and brick all absorb heat very well. These dense materials absorb heat very well, even though the air is cooling down at night. “So you get kind of this baking-in factor over the course of multiple days of heat,” says Portland State University climate adaptation scientist Vivek Shandas, who has studied the heat island effect in Portland, New Orleans, and dozens of other cities. According to Shandas, New Orleans now faces a string of heat-related problems after Hurricane Ida.

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