WTAMU students conducting heat study of Palo Duro Canyon

Local News

CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Hot summer days mean extreme heat down in the Palo Duro Canyon. This summer, students at West Texas A&M University will map it out with a new study.

12 WTAMU students will use sensors to create a heat map of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, under direction from Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Dr. Erik Crosman.

“Everyone knows the canyon’s hot. That’s common knowledge. Sometimes the visitors that come from out of town don’t,” Dr. Crosman said. “Some days, the canyon is 12 degrees hotter, and some days it’s two degrees hotter. So, this data will help us to improve the forecast.”

The students are collaborating with the National Weather Service, mainly to help improve forecasting in the canyon on hot days, but also to learn more about the weather in general and how it changes.

The university said the students will also examine how the terrain and the dryline interact to trigger storms.

“Last summer, we did some pilot data and drove around the canyon and, you know, verified what we expected—that certain areas are hotter than others—but we’re going to need to understand why that is.”

Dr. Crosman said these observations have not been done in large canyons before.

“What we would see here would be replicated in other canyons like the Grand Canyon and canyons throughout the world, and so just the fundamental science of having observations all throughout the sides, and on top and in the canyon,” he continued.

The study also aims to improve heat safety, which could save lives.

“When folks come out in the middle of the day in the summer and they’re underprepared with water, and the right clothing, sunscreen, all of those things, and they get overheated—it can be really dangerous, it can be life threatening,” said Palo Duro Canyon State Park’s Assistant Park Superintendent, Jeff Davis.

David said he hopes the study’s findings will reduce the number of heat-related rescues they make. He said on a busy Saturday in the summer, they might assist 20 or 30 hikers.

“We know for sure that it gets hotter on the bottom. It’s like a big convection oven, basically, but we don’t have specific data on, you know what levels are safer, you know, what trails at what height in what elevation in the park might be safer than others?” David continued. “And so I think having that data is just one more tool in our tool belt to help us provide the information that people need to be safe.”

Dr. Crosman said the recent rainfall has set the students back, but they hope to get going once June comes and the heat sets in.

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