Climate MattersJuly 26, 2023

Urban Heat Hot Spots


  • About 80% of the U.S. population lives in cities, where the urban heat island effect can worsen heat extremes.

  • Climate Central analyzed how urban heat island intensity varies within 44 major U.S. cities that together account for nearly one-quarter of the total U.S. population.

  • This analysis calculates the urban heat island (UHI) index for each census tract within a city to estimate how much hotter these areas are due to the characteristics of the built environment.  

  • Maps show urban heat hot spots within each city—whether concentrated in the urban core (e.g., Indianapolis) or sprawling across a vast developed area (e.g., Detroit).

  • Across all 44 cities, the total population living in census tracts with an UHI index of 8°F or higher is 41 million—or about 55% of the 74 million people included in this analysis. 

  • Nine cities had at least 1 million people exposed to an UHI index of 8°F or higher—meaning that people in those census tracts feel at least 8°F more heat because of the local built environment.

  • The average UHI index per capita was lowest in Wichita  (7.2°F) and highest in New York (9.5°F), San Francisco (8.8°F), Chicago and Miami (8.3°F), and Seattle (8.2°F). 

  • The average UHI index by area ranged from 5.8°F in Las Vegas to 8.6°F in New York.

  • Planting street trees and installing cool roofs and pavements are among the ways to reduce local heat islands.

Download data (.xlsx) to explore findings for census tracts, cities, and population exposure.

Download .kml versions of urban heat island intensity maps for each city.

CM: Urban Heat Island Map 2023 (EN)
UHI Temperature Infographic - Urban Heat Islands
UHI Temperature Infographic

Hotter cities, higher heat risks

More than half of the global population and about 80% of the U.S. population lives in cities. Urban populations tend to experience higher average temperatures and more intense heat extremes than people in less developed areas.

This is because, in addition to the primary warming from carbon pollution, cities also experience an extra temperature boost due to the urban heat island effect. 

During extreme heat events such as this summer’s relentless heat waves in the southern U.S., the urban heat island effect can worsen heat stress and related illness for millions, put vulnerable populations at risk, and lead to higher energy bills and strained power grids during spikes in cooling demand

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 

“The urban heat island effect is a measurable increase in ambient urban air temperatures resulting primarily from the replacement of vegetation with buildings, roads, and other heat-absorbing infrastructure. The heat island effect can result in significant temperature differences between rural and urban areas.” 

Most of the planet is warming due to human-caused climate change, but the built environment in cities amplifies both average temperatures and extreme heat. Extreme heat is the deadliest natural hazard in the U.S. Children and adults over 65 are among those most vulnerable to heat-related illness. 

Estimating urban heat intensity

Climate Central analyzed the urban heat island (UHI) index in 18,945 census tracts comprising 44 large U.S. cities in order to understand where urban heat is most intense within each city. The combined population of all 44 cities analyzed is over 74 million—about 22% of the total U.S. population. 

The UHI index in this analysis is based on a study, Sangiorgio et al. (2020), that quantifies the factors that cause developed areas to heat up. Climate Central adapted the modeling approach in Sangiorgio et al. (2020) using data on the distribution of land cover types in each city (from green space to paved areas) as well as building height and population density, to estimate how urban heat island intensity varies within each of the 44 cities included in this analysis. See Methodology below for more detail. 

The primary factors that influence UHI index estimates in this analysis are, in order of influence: albedo, percentage of green space, and population density. Other characteristics of the built environment, including the width of streets, orientation of urban canyons, and building heights have a smaller relative influence on UHI index estimates. See Why it’s hotter in the city below to learn more about each factor.

Of all these factors, albedo generally has the largest effect on UHI index values. 

  • Albedo is the proportion of incoming sunlight (solar radiation) reflected by a surface. 

  • Roads, sidewalks, buildings, and parking lots all have low albedo, meaning that these common urban surfaces absorb more sunlight and radiate it back into the city as heat. 

  • Water bodies also have low albedo; in coastal cities, low-albedo water bodies can drive higher UHI index values—as seen in Seattle, New Orleans, and Miami among others. 

The UHI index values (in °F) in this analysis are estimates of how much the urban built environment boosts the temperature in a census tract. The UHI index is an estimate of the additional heat that local land use factors  contribute to urban areas.

  • For example, on a 95°F day in rural northern Texas, people living or working in a downtown Dallas area with a UHI index value of 9°F would experience temperatures of at least 104°F. 

This analysis differs from a 2021 Climate Central analysis in methodology and scope. The primary aim of this analysis is to assess how urban heat intensity varies within 44 major U.S. cities. By contrast, the 2021 analysis determined a single average UHI index value for each of 158 U.S. cities, but did not evaluate the relative heat intensity of different areas within each city. 

Mapping heat hot spots within 44 cities

Urban heat intensity and patterns of high heat exposure vary within and across the 44 cities analyzed. 

Maps of each city reveal how different land use and urban growth patterns influence the distribution of heat hot spots across census tracts—whether concentrated in a small urban core or sprawling across a vast area. 

In some cities, heat intensity is concentrated in a distinct urban core. These cities have an extreme apparent contrast in UHI index values between the urban core and surrounding less-developed areas:

  • Albuquerque, Bakersfield, Colorado Springs, Fresno, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Jose, Tulsa, and Wichita.

Other cities have more diffused zones of heat intensity, with a smaller relative difference in UHI index values between census tracts in the urban core and outlying areas. These patterns are apparent in:

  • Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, and San Diego.

Still other cities are dominated by sprawling heat intensity. In these cities, high UHI index values are not concentrated in a central core but rather spread across a vast developed land area:

  • Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Newark, New Orleans, New York City, Omaha, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

How many people experience extreme urban heat?

UHI index values for individual census tracts ranged from 4.7°F (in Denver) to 13.2°F (in New York).

The most extreme 25% of all 18,945 census tracts analyzed had UHI index values of 8.1°F and higher.

In order to assess how many people live in areas with extreme UHI index values, Climate Central analyzed the total urban population living in census tracts at 8°F and above. 

  • Download data to explore population exposure at a range of other UHI index thresholds. 

Across all 44 cities, the total population living in census tracts with a UHI index of 8°F or higher is 41 million—or about 55% of the 74 million people included in this analysis. 

  • In other words, the urban population included in this analysis is concentrated in census tracts with higher-than average urban heat intensity. 

More than two-thirds of residents in the following cities experience at least 8°F more heat due to the urban heat island effect: Detroit (86%), New York (78%), Dallas (75%), New Orleans (74%), Houston (73%), Portland (67%), San Antonio (67%), and Omaha (66%).

Nine cities included in this analysis had at least 1 million people exposed to an UHI index of 8°F or higher—meaning that on a day when temperatures in a park outside the city are 90°F, it feels like 98°F or higher for at least 1 million people in the city.

CityPopulation with UHI index of 8°F or higherPercent of total population (%)
New York7,124,78178
Los Angeles3,271,98545
San Antonio1,461,28867
San Diego1,359,13855

City-wide urban heat rankings

The UHI index values for individual census tracts were averaged by each city’s total area and population to determine average UHI index values for all 44 cities. 

The cities with the highest average UHI index values are distributed across the majority of U.S. climate regions—with the exception of the Southwest and the Northern Rockies and Plains. 

The city-wide average UHI index by area ranged from 5.8°F in Las Vegas to 8.6°F in New York.

CityAverage UHI index, area-weighted (°F)U.S. climate region
New York8.6Northeast
New Orleans8.0South
Detroit8.0Upper Midwest
Chicago7.9Ohio Valley
Minneapolis7.8Upper Midwest
San Francisco7.7West

The average UHI index per capita was lowest in Wichita (7.2°F) and highest in New York (9.5°F), San Francisco (8.8°F), Chicago and Miami (8.3°F), and Seattle (8.2°F). 

In 39 of the 44 cities analyzed, the population-weighted average UHI index values were higher (by 0.1 to 1.6°F) than their area-weighted average UHI index. 

CityAverage UHI index, population-weighted (°F)U.S. climate region
New York9.5Northeast
San Francisco8.8West
Chicago8.3Ohio Valley
Los Angeles8.1West
New Orleans8.0South
Washington, D.C.8.0Northeast
Detriot8.0Upper Midwest

Who lives in urban heat hot spots?

Structural inequities can lead to higher urban heat exposure in some communities. According to a 2021 study, people of color and those living below the poverty line are disproportionately exposed to urban heat island intensity in 169 of the largest U.S. cities.

Similarly, a 2021 report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that, with continued climate warming, several populations face disproportionate exposure to extreme heat in 49 major U.S. cities. The EPA found that “Black and African American individuals are 40% more likely than non-Black and non-African American individuals to live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature related mortality with 2°C of global warming.” 

The same analysis also found disproportionate exposure to extreme heat among low income (+11%) and Hispanic or Latino (+1%) populations relative to reference (e.g., non-low income) populations. 

Why it’s hotter in the city   

Several key factors that drive extreme heat in cities were included in the UHI index: 

Miles of hard, dark surfaces absorb and then radiate heat back into cities. Albedo is the proportion of incoming sunlight (solar radiation) reflected by a surface. Of all the factors used to calculate UHI index values, albedo generally has the largest influence. 

Population density matters. Heat emissions can come from many aspects of urban life including transportation, industrial facilities, and the heating and cooling of buildings. During a summer heat wave, air conditioning from urban buildings can add 20% more heat to the outside air.

Less vegetation means less evaporative cooling. Partially through a process called evapotranspiration, plants help cool the air. Trees and plants can help reduce peak summer temperatures by 2-9°F in urban areas. Learn more: The Power of Urban Trees.

The shape and height of buildings can impact airflow. The size and dimensions of buildings influence how air moves through a city during the day, playing a large role in the trapping or dissipation of heat.

Solutions to urban heat

There are a number of short-term and long-term solutions to adapt to an increasingly warmer future, and to mitigate urban heat stress and related illness. Short-term solutions are primarily about getting people out of extreme or dangerous levels of heat and ensuring their health and safety

There are also ways to reduce urban heat island effects over the long-term such as:

  • Planting trees, particularly along paved streets. 

  • A green roof, or rooftop garden, is a vegetative layer grown on a rooftop that can provide shade and reduce rooftop temperatures. 

  • Cool roofs are made of highly reflective (i.e., high albedo) and emissive materials that remain cooler than traditional materials, and help to reduce energy use. 

  • Cool pavements are an alternative to conventional concrete or asphalt sidewalks and roads, which can reach peak summer temperatures of 120–150°F and radiate that heat contributing to the nighttime urban heat island effect. Cool pavements are reflective and/or permeable materials that help reduce surface temperatures. Research and development is ongoing on cool pavement types and their benefits and tradeoffs.


How is extreme heat affecting public health near you?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Heat and Health Tracker maps heat-related illnesses at the census-tract level in real time. Use the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) Heat Equity Mapper to find census tracts in your area with the highest heat burden. Check the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services monthly Climate and Health Outlook for extreme heat outlooks in your region throughout the summer. 

How are local officials protecting people from extreme heat?

Reports from NOAA’s urban heat island mapping campaigns cover local risk reduction and adaptation strategies in 60+ U.S. cities. The NIHHIS provides heat preparedness and planning resources. Find your state's emergency management agency to learn more about heat action plans in your area. Check with local officials for available cooling centers. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) aims to alleviate extreme heat stress for vulnerable populations. Explore LIHEAP data and mapping tools to see how and where historical funding has been allocated. 


Angel Hsu, PhD
Assistant Professor
University of North Carolina
Relevant expertise: urban heat island exposure

Vivek Shandas, PhD (he/him/his)
Portland State University
Related expertise:
Exposure to intra-urban heat, air pollution-heat dynamics, health impacts, social/infrastructure vulnerability assessments, public policy around climate change

Diego Manya
Research Associate
Data-Driven EnviroLab
Related expertise: Urban heat island inequities in U.S. cities
*Available for interviews in Spanish and English

Daniel J. Vecellio, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Scholar, Virginia Climate Center
George Mason University
Related expertise: Extreme heat and impacts on human health


Submit a request to SciLine from the American Association for the Advancement of Science or to the Climate Data Concierge from Columbia University. These free services rapidly connect journalists to relevant scientific experts. 

Browse maps of climate experts and services at regional NOAA, USDA, and Department of the Interior offices.  

Explore databases such as 500 Women Scientists, BIPOC Climate and Energy Justice PhDs, and Diverse Sources to find and amplify diverse expert voices. 

Reach out to your State Climate Office or the nearest Land-Grant University to connect with scientists, educators, and extension staff in your local area. 


Climate Central analyzed the urban heat island (UHI) index in 18,945 census tracts comprising 44 large U.S. cities in order to understand where urban heat is most intense within each city. 

Climate Central adapted the modeling approach of Sangiorgio et al. (2020) to calculate UHI index values for each census tract based on the prevalence of different land cover types and parameters of the built environment in each tract. The land cover types included in this analysis cover a range of six natural (excluding open water) and ten built environments, as classified by Demuzere et al. (2020). Climate Central applied the model developed by Sangiorgio et al. (2020) to weight each census tract’s land cover types and parameters of the built environment and calculate the UHI index for that tract, as described in the detailed methodology available here

Population exposure estimates to UHI index values of various thresholds are based on 2020 Census data at the census tract level. City-wide UHI index values are averages of all census tracts within each city, weighted either by total area or by total population.