Lack of Shade Photo: Kimberly Miller

“Late July blistered with sandy skies and soupy air in South Florida as a slug of Saharan dust drained clouds of rain while moisture clung to the surface like hot gum on a shoe.

The combination of a dry middle atmosphere blocking showers and moisture near the ground drove the heat index, or ‘feels-like’ temperature, into the triple digits from the East Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

On 58th Street in West Palm Beach – a block of asphalt barren of shade trees – it reached 93.9 degrees near noon July 22 with a relative humidity of 58%. That means it felt like 108 degrees.

‘My electric bill was almost two-fold in June from what it was in March,’ said 27-year-old Varun Parshad, who sought shade with his dog Nala at Osprey Park, eight blocks south of 58th Street. ‘I try to be more disciplined with the temperature settings.’

But the Baltimore native likes to sleep with the thermostat on 69 degrees, which means his $40 bill in March was more than $80 in June…

Six miles to the southwest, the National Weather Service’s official gauge at Palm Beach International Airport registered 88 degrees at noon with a feels-like temperature of 100 degrees.

Spruce Avenue and 58th Street in West Palm Beach have no shade trees and only a few spindly palms.

The city has dedicated $7,700 to plant green buttonwoods in areas along 58th and 57th streets. The difference between 58th Street and the airport is significant enough when meteorologists and emergency officials have to make heat-related decisions…

Still, officials recognize that temperatures fluctuate by neighborhood, and it’s something some cities are trying to mitigate as they plan for a warmer future stoked by climate change…

City officials are dedicating $7,700 to plant 14 green buttonwood trees on 57th and 58th streets to throw some shade on the sunbaked blacktop. The money comes from a ‘tree mitigation’ fund that developers pay into if they can’t meet city requirements for trees on their properties. As of late July, there was $582,000 in the account…

Palm Beach County’s emergency operations center is well-equipped to handle a hurricane, but there is no history of a cooling center ever opening.

‘Our homes are typically set up with air conditioning because you can’t not have it,’ said Penni Redford, West Palm Beach’s resilience and climate change manager. ‘But then the question becomes, can you afford it?’…

She points to public libraries as a place people could go to cool off for now. But a cooling center in the future isn’t out of the question…

So, trees are, for now, what West Palm Beach has focused on as a way to cool neighborhoods and encourage more walking and biking to meet the city’s goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

It promised in 2015 to plant and give away 10,000 trees in 10 years. The tally by the end of 2022 is expected to be about 7,000.

Florida’s iconic palm tree, however, isn’t even an option at the tree giveaways because they offer little shade to baking urban heat islands and capture minimal amounts of carbon – a greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.

As city officials look for more ways to cool concrete jungles and balance carbon emissions, the priority for new plantings is often broadleaf hardwood trees, not the idyllic palm…”

— Kimberly Miller, Palm Beach Post

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Citizens for a Scenic Florida