Researchers looking at ways to cool Phoenix down

PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Walking around outside during the summer in Phoenix is about as much fun as a root canal on some days, like Monday, but the heat in the Valley is no joke.

In 2017, 155 people died from heat-related causes in the Phoenix area, setting a new record. Phoenix may be on pace to beat it in 2018.

But can research and data help in redesigning parts of the Valley to actually lower the air temperature? That's what some researchers from ASU and the City of Phoenix hope to find out.

"It certainly is hot," said David Hondula with the ASU Climate Research Center. "Why we're out here as researchers at ASU is that how hot it is depends a lot on where we are in the city."

The City of Phoenix is making an effort to make it a little more comfortable on those hot days. They've partnered with ASU researchers, like Hondula, to study where it's the hottest, and what they can do.

"This is one of the tools we're using to measure heat in the Edison/Eastlake neighborhood," said Hondula, as he points to a measuring device. "This is one of the hottest neighborhoods in the City of Phoenix, that's what we understand so far."

The neighborhood, just east of the heat island that is Downtown Phoenix, has a lot of scorching factors going against it, such as dark rooftops, vacant lots, and wide open pavements, to name a few. Hondula hopes data from sensors placed around the area holds the key for a cool down.

"If we plant trees in the neighborhood, if we change some of the buildings in the neighborhood, is that going to change the temperature from one place to another?" said Hondula.

Another test being run by the city involves the thing you can reach for during a monsoon storm: can an umbrella also be a practical way to keep you cool?

"I'm carrying this umbrella, not just because it does help, but it's one of the prototypes we're testing for this program," said Michael Hammett, City of Phoenix's Chief Service Officer.

You could say Hammett is "throwing shade". He's been handing out umbrellas to people around the city, just to see if they'd use them.

"This has been a really significant test that we've done so far," said Hammett. "It's not to say that we'll be spreading umbrellas all across Phoenix, but we're seeing people who've took our umbrellas and continuing to use them."

If you don't feel cooler after the few minutes you've taken to watch this story, that's fine. It will take a while. However, Hammett says the efforts, from trees to structures to umbrellas, are working.

"It doesn't feel cooler, yet," said Hammett. "It'll take about five to eight years, but we're moving in the right direction and we're showing that adding trees can make a big difference," said Hammett.

This project is part of a nationwide challenge trying to solve urban problems. Phoenix is competing against 34 other cities for a shot at $5 million worth of grant money that would go towards implementing more shade around the city.