USA: 122 degrees for days: the looming Phoenix heat wave that could harm thousands

Source(s): Vox Media Inc.

By Umair Irfan 

This is part one in a three-part series about worst-case extreme weather scenarios in three regions of the United States — Arizona, California, and Florida — that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.


One day in the future, a massive wave of high-pressure air will park over Phoenix.

As the sun rises amid an already scorching summer, the pressure will hold the accumulated heat in place and the triple-digit temperatures will tick up higher and higher. 119 degrees Fahrenheit. 120. 121. 122. Health officials will warn citizens to stay inside, but some will venture out and emergency room visits will spike. At night, the temperature will drop only to 100.


But as the climate changes, heat waves will get worse. Not only is Phoenix one of the hottest cities in the United States, it’s one of the fastest warming. By 2060, the city will have 132 days above 100 degrees, according to Climate Central, a consortium of researchers and reporters.


Beyond emissions of greenhouse gases, decisions about planning roads, building houses, erecting utility poles, and paving parking lots also contribute to Phoenix’s capacity to absorb heat. These surfaces take in an immense amount of heat, and when the evenings stay warm, the roads, sidewalks, and buildings can’t shed that energy.


To combat warming, city officials are taking aim at the hotspots within Phoenix’s heat island. “Two neighborhoods two miles apart can have a 13-degree [Fahrenheit] temperature difference,” said Mark Hartman, chief sustainability officer for the City of Phoenix. That means cooling tactics have to be targeted at the most vulnerable areas, which will require careful planning and measurement.

But he’s hopeful that many of the worst health effects can be avoided. “We can cool our city to more than offset our increasing temperatures,” said Hartman.


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