First-ever 'chief heat officer' has ambitious plans

·3 min read

Miami-Dade County in southeastern Florida is home to one thing for sure: Heat.

With the official start of summer just around the corner, the county has decided to introduce a new and first-of-its-kind role to address the impacts heat can have on residents.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava recently appointed Jane Gilbert to the unique and brand-new position of interim chief heat officer. In the new role, Gilbert will determine who in the county is most affected by heat and create innovative ways for those residents to stay cool as the mercury rises.

"Heat is the silent killer," Gilbert told AccuWeather National Reporter Kim Leoffler in a recent interview. "Heat has not been as much on the public radar, but it's been bubbling up as a concern in our neighborhood."

Gilbert has already hit the ground running and is brainstorming new ideas to beat the heat in the county. One of her first ideas is to work alongside health care officials to track deaths in the county related to heat, as well as to train volunteers to be able to check on people in the community in the event of a power outage.

Miami-Dade County chief heat officer Jane Gilbert aims to cool down the sidewalks of the city by installing more trees and says her plan would require over 1 million trees to be planted by 2030. (AccuWeather / Kim Leoffler)

In an effort to cool down the sidewalks throughout Miami, Gilbert also hopes to install more trees along the pathways.

"A shaded pavement area can be up to 35, actually 40, degrees Fahrenheit cooler than just an open pavement area," Gilbert explained.

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She hopes to shade sidewalks with trees specifically because she said using plants rather than human-made structures will provide additional shade through evapotranspiration, which is moisture that evaporates from plant life and can further lower temperatures, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Dombek.

Gilbert aims for the county to have a 30% tree canopy by the year 2030. Currently, the tree canopy in the area is just around 20%. She said her goal of increasing the canopy over the next nine years would take much more than a million trees to achieve.

"Miami-Dade County is the size of Rhode Island," Gilbert said, so an increase of that amount would be "a big feat."

A woman is tended to as she sits on the sidewalk while waiting in line in the hot sun at a walk-up testing site for COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, June 30, 2020, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The tree canopy project would also have other benefits -- such as lowering greenhouse emissions by both making it easier for people to use public walkways as a form of transportation and by absorbing carbon dioxide naturally.

"If we stay on a no-action trajectory of emissions, we will have up to three months here in Miami of days of a heat index of 105 [degrees] or more," Gilbert said.

While Gilbert's new position in the county may be the first of its kind, she told Loeffler she hopes other cities will soon appoint chief heat officers as well.

"Each one is going to have their own approach," she said. "The advantage of a chief heat officer is that I wake up every day thinking about heat."

Reporting by Kim Leoffler

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