Phoenix Heat Melts a Record for US Cities

It's now been 110 or higher for 19 straight days
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 18, 2023 7:32 PM CDT
Phoenix Heat Melts a Record for US Cities
The entrance of the Justa Center, a daytime facility for the homeless, welcomes people into the facility as a cooling center, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A dangerous 19th straight day of scorching heat in Phoenix set a record for US cities Tuesday, confined many residents to air-conditioned safety, and turned the usually vibrant metropolis into a ghost town. The city's record streak of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or more stood out even amid sweltering temperatures across the globe, the AP reports. It reached 117 degrees at 3pm. Human-caused climate change and a newly formed El Nino are combining to shatter heat records worldwide , scientists say. No other major city—defined as the 25 most populous in the United States—has had any stretch of 110-degree days or 90-degree nights longer than Phoenix, said weather historian Christopher Burt of the Weather Company.

"When you have several million people subjected to that sort of thermal abuse, there are impacts," said NOAA Climate Analysis Group Director Russell Vose, who chairs a committee on national records. For Phoenix, it's not only the brutal daytime highs that are deadly. The lack of a nighttime cooldown can rob people without access to air conditioning of the break their bodies need to function properly. With Tuesday's low of 94, the city has had nine straight days of temperatures that didn't go below 90 at night, breaking another record there, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Salerno, who called it "pretty miserable when you don't have any recovery overnight."

During the day, the heat built up so early that the city hit the 110 mark a couple of minutes before noon. Dog parks emptied out by the mid morning and evening concerts and other outdoor events were cancelled to protect performers and attendees. In the hours before the new record was set, rivers of sweat streamed down the sunburned face of Lori Miccichi, 38, as she pushed a shopping cart filled with her belongings through downtown Phoenix, looking for a place to get out of the heat. I've been out here a long time and homeless for about three years," Miccichi told the AP. "When it's like this, you just have to get into the shade. This last week has been the hottest I ever remember."

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Phoenix's heat wave has both long and short-term causes, said Arizona State University's Randy Cerveny. Long-term high temperatures over recent decades are due to human activity, he said, while the short-term cause is high pressure over the western United States. The Southwest high pressure not only brings the heat, it prevents cooling rain and clouds from bringing relief, Smith said. Normally, the Southwest's monsoon season kicks in around June 15 with rain and clouds. But Phoenix has not had measurable rain since mid-March. "This heat wave is intense and unrelenting," said Katharine Jacobs, director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona. "Unfortunately, it is a harbinger of things to come." (Here's five brutal statistics about the Phoenix heat.)

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