FARMERSBURG, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Hoosiers were feeling the heat in late august with many areas reporting heat indices of more than 110° at points. With those high temperatures comes the concern of heat-related deaths as residents attempt to get through their day-to-day responsibilities.

One aspect of high temperatures for many who live in cities and towns is the Urban Heat Island Effect.

What is an Urban Heat Island?

According to the EPA, an Urban Heat Island is when cities replace natural land cover, such as grassy fields, wooded areas, or forests, with concentrated areas of pavement, buildings and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat. This causes the area to get hot faster and remain hot longer.

The EPA says a number of efforts can be made to reduce the effect of Urban Heat Islands, such as investing in green infrastructure, planting trees and other vegetation. In Kentucky, the city of Louisville recently invested over $100,000 for a tree canopy assessment to help the city determine where to plant more trees to help with the heat island effect.

Heat related Deaths

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 702 heat-related deaths occurred in the United States annually between 2004 and 2018. Of those, 415 listed heat as the underlying cause of death, and 287 listed heat as a contributing cause.

“Deaths attributed to natural heat exposure represent a continuing public health concern. Preparedness and response initiatives that limit exposure during periods of extreme heat can reduce mortality,” The CDC website reads.

Ranking state capitals by vegetation coverage

Recently, a study was done by the Nearmap AI team, that looked at various cities across the United States analyzing the tree canopy using aerial imagery. The goal was to determine what state capital was America’s “leafiest”.

While Charleston West Virginia ranked at number one with an incredible 74.7% of tree coverage, Indianapolis managed to find it’s way into the top half of the country, ranking at #22 for “most leafy”

Informing the development of America’s Top 25 Leafiest Capital Cities required Nearmap to pull historical and current tree canopy high-resolution aerial imagery on residential areas covering more than 275 million inhabitants. We then harnessed Nearmap AI machine-learning capabilities to identify and analyze residential tree cover density and changes in capital cities throughout the United States.

Nearmap AI’s Leafiest Cities report

However, that didn’t mean that the Hoosier capital was anywhere close to even 50% tree canopy coverage for residents, with the percentage of total residential tree coverage coming in at just 29.5%.

When discussing why this matters, Nearmap AI noted that vegetation coverage can increase the connection to nature that residents feel, and can improve the physical, mental, and social health of city residents living in an urban environment.

“The volume of tree cover can have a significant impact on public health and safety, from preventing overheating, improving environmental health, and mental and physical health benefits,” Executive Vice President and General Manager of North America at Nearmap Tony Agresta said. “Beyond that, the insights gleaned from this data can be used by insurers, construction companies and local governments to create tangible change in their communities, in addition to tracking progress in the creation of greener cities, reducing natural disaster risk and progressing urban development.”

While Indiana’s 29.5% may feel a bit low when comparing with the downright woodsy Charleston, WV, a look at the rankings shows that most state capitals are far from even 70% coverage.

Capital CityStatePercentage of Total Residential Tree Coverage
1. CharlestonWest Virginia74.7%
2. TallahasseeFlorida56.1%
3. Little RockArkansas54.9%
4. RaleighNorth Carolina54.7%
5. NashvilleTennesse53.5%
6. AtlantaGeorgia53.1%
7. AnnapolisMaryland51.0%
8. ConcordNew Hampshire49.2%
9. JacksonMississippi47.5%
10. AugustaMaine46.3%
11. Jefferson CityMissouri43.3%
12. AustinTexas43.2%
13. OlympiaWashington42.9%
14. ColumbiaSouth Carolina40.1%
15. RichmondVirginia39.9%
16. AlbanyNew York39.1%
17. MontgomeryAlabama34.9%
18. Baton RougeLousiana34.1%
19. St. PaulMinnesota33.2%
20. Des MoinesIowa31.4%
21. TopekaKansas30.6%
22. IndianapolisIndiana29.5%
23. SpringfieldIllinois27.7%
24. FrankfortKentucky26.3%
25. ColumbusOhio26.1%
Data courtesy Nearmap AI

The Nearmap AI team utilized the study to tout that their aerial imagery systems can now detect trees when leaves have fallen off as well to improve the accuracy of their data. The group surveys more than 100 million locations in the U.S. up to three times a year to establish historical data and trendlines for local governments and other organizations to use when determining ways to combat the Urban Heat Island effect.