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Natick - Local Town Pages

Heat-Seeking Motorists

NYC Heat Watch participants. Courtesy photo

By Sean Sullivan
This summer, some Natick residents will take to the roads not to beat the heat, but rather in search of it.
Instead of heading to the coast or local lakes and pools, they’ll be driving around town, looking for hot spots - places where temperatures spike to significantly higher degrees during already-hot days.  

Mystic River Heat Watch


Natick will be part of a cohort with neighboring municipalities that have signed up to participate in the program. Among them are Framingham, Ashland and Holliston. They are part of a Metrowest team that will create a map comprising a 100-square mile survey of so-called “heat islands” for the program.
Its purpose is to learn what areas and residents might benefit from heat-mitigation measures, in this era when communities are under ever more threat from the extremes of climate change.     
“I’m pretty excited about it,” said Jillian Wilson-Martin.  She is Natick’s Sustainability Coordinator.
The volunteers, “citizen scientists,” as she called them, will need only drive for about an hour on the chosen day to collect relevant data. Each will navigate along a predetermined route, and their samplings will be combined with other volunteers to produce a wider picture of areas where the mercury rises well above the norm.
The data collection effort won’t require sampling over weeks - one hour over the course of a particularly hot and sunny day will suffice. No day had been designated yet for the experiment, which will take place some time this month, as weather forecasts’ reliability diminishes the further out predictions are made.
The project will be overseen locally by Framingham State University’s Christa McAuliffe Center for Integrated Science Learning. And Natick’s participation will comprise but a small corner of the much-larger mission.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is spearheading the science, as part of a fact-finding effort that will involve fourteen states across the country.
“This is a great opportunity to increase awareness of Urban Heat Islands in Framingham and MetroWest,” stated Dr. Irene Porro, in Framingham State University’s promotional media. She is director of the state school’s McAuliffe Center.
All volunteers will undergo a short training session, done virtually, and will with a few days notice before one sweltering day this month, set out on their fact and Fahrenheit-finding missions. To get a more thorough picture of variations, temperature samples will be taken at 6 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. 
Weather and municipal professionals already know what sort of topography tends to generate the kinds of heat islands that volunteers will be searching for. These tend to be places with little or no tree cover, sections of towns and cities where pavement sprawls and leafy shade is scarce.
Some of those hot spots, said Wilson-Martin, can really live up to the name. In places where pavement predominates, temps can climb as high as 130 degrees. Focal points in Natick include the town’s train station and the Natick Common. With the data, communities can better determine where heat-mitigation measures (like air-conditioning) might be warranted.
Stationary temperature sensors will be part of the data-collection process, and volunteers will be given versions of the devices that can be fastened outside their car windows. All that’s left is to navigate the prescribed route, and let the sensors do their thing.
“It’s a really fun way to get involved,” said Wilson-Martin