Extreme temperatures pose a serious, long-term health threat for people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, respiratory diseases, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, mental illness and multiple sclerosis. We all know that people die of heat stroke in the summer or of heart attacks after shoveling snow. We know a lot less about the long-term effects on large populations of living in extreme heat and cold. Reporters at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland are working with National Public Radio and students at Wide Angle Youth Media in Baltimore on a project to look at how heat and cold in Baltimore homes affect residents' health – particularly as climate change becomes more and more significant. Learn more and get involved.

Trying to stay warm in Oliver

By Ian Round

Capital News Service
March 04, 2019

Carolyn Owens woke to find she couldn’t straighten her right arm. Her arthritic elbows and knees hurt in the cold. It was bad during the polar vortex in late January.

“It didn’t feel like the heat was on,” she said. But the furnace had been on--it strained in the cold to heat her wide, three-story rowhouse in Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood. She sat near the vent and wrapped heavy towels around her legs, hoping to keep them from getting too stiff. She wore sweats, two shirts, a jacket and long socks.

Owens, 60, is from Baltimore and worked as a custodian in city schools until the last one she worked in closed in 2016.

Oliver sits northwest of the Johns Hopkins University medical campus. Owens owns this house and has lived here for almost seven years. The house has always been cold in the winter, especially on the first floor and in the basement. She uses “curtains that keep the cold air out,” but she doesn’t like them because they also keep out the sunlight. She said an inspector a few years ago told her that her furnace was too small for the house.

In the summer, though, the issue is heat.

“You can smell the heat up here,” she said in the third-floor bedroom. “Down in the basement in the summertime, that’s where you need to be at. That’s the coolest thing there is. This just the hottest room up here.”

Capital News Service reporters last week placed sensors in that bedroom, in the basement and in the dining room. Owens’ house is the third Baltimore home with CNS sensors recording temperature and humidity every 10 seconds.

CNS is collecting data from neighborhoods that fall generally near two routes, Linwood Avenue and Harford Road, both in East Baltimore. Those routes were selected after reviewing data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which found some neighborhoods can reach temperatures 15 degrees hotter than others.

Oliver is a city neighborhood without many trees, which help cool blocks down.

A couple of miles away, Ednor Gardens-Lakeside has more trees than many communities. But Kai Lively, who lives in a rowhouse there, said extreme temperatures are a problem for him too. There’s daylight between the front door and the frame. The windows, which were installed in the 1970s, are cracked. The basement floods regularly, as do his neighbors’.

Lively, 21, grew up here and owns this house on Yolando Road. He graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 2015 and studied computer science at Howard University for two years. He dropped out after his father died. Now he’s a web developer and manages this house.

“It’s nice having a house at 21,” he said, “but I hate living here, because if you can’t maintain it, it’s worthless. It’s just sitting on a bill.”

CNS reporters are visiting communities across East Baltimore to find residents affected by extreme heat and cold -- people dealing with chronic illnesses aggravated by temperature, people who cannot pay their heating bills, people who live in Baltimore’s heat and humidity without air conditioning.

If you’re interested in helping CNS collect data or willing to talk about how extreme temperatures affect your life, please contact us.