Urban Heat Islands

People who move from the city into the countryside often find conditions are far different from those they imagined. The weather is wetter. There is mud everywhere. What is more, it is often colder and usually windier. Disillusionment sets in, not helped by the suspicion that what they see and feel springs not from nature, but from the failure of their romantic expectations of life in a warm, sunny, rural idyll.

Perhaps it is a mistake to expect such a radical change to happen smoothly and to suppose that the difference between town and country life amounts to nothing more than the scenery. It is not a mistake, though, to suggest that the weather is different. Cities have a different climate from the countryside around them. It is warmer, wetter, and less windy than the adjacent rural climate, and there are more thunderstorms. The countryside may seem wetter, but that is because the rain is often driven by a strong wind and people are more exposed to it than they are in the city— and the ground is certainly muddier.

The first person to document this difference was Luke Howard (1772-1864), the English meteorologist who gave us the cloud names that we use to this day. In 1818-19 Howard published The Climate of London in two volumes, and in 1833 he published a second edition, this time in three volumes. It was a formidable achievement. In this work he made what is thought to be the first reference to a heat island and he produced temperature records to support it.

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