Across a broad swath of the U.S. from Texas to Nevada, a major heat wave threatening to break temperature records continued to bake parts of the South and Southwest on Wednesday, sending people seeking relief and contributing to what has become a series of weather extremes that according to researchers fit the pattern of a warming environment.
Temperatures well into the triple digits are expected this weekend from California to Texas to Florida, with parts of Nevada expected to reach 116 degrees Fahrenheit and cities in Arizona expected to reach a staggering 118 F.
“Today is day 12 of 110-plus, and the call out on this event is yet to come,” said David Hondula, who heads the Phoenix Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, which was preparing for a weekend spike in temperatures.
According to a new report from Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit research organization focused on the analysis of climate data, last month was the warmest June globally since at least 1850, when record keeping began. The report found that June 2023 has broken last year’s previous record by a “wide margin”, putting the planet on track for one of its warmest years on record – if not the warmest.
The report comes as long stretches of oppressively high heat and humidity grip much of the US, with those throughout the southern part of the country bearing the brunt of extreme temperatures. And there is no end in sight.
Hondula said his biggest concern was the city’s population who were homeless.
“We know there will be hundreds of people living on the streets during this heat event and they are much, much more at risk than everyone else,” Hondula said.
Last year, heat was a factor in 425 deaths in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, according to a report released in June. About 56% of heat deaths involved people who were homeless.
Hondula said a small team within his office crisscrossed the city, contacting unsheltered people, distributing supplies and directing them to refrigeration centers for emergency relief.
“The status quo is just not good enough. We have a lot more to do locally,” Hondula said, adding that he was concerned because critical nighttime temperatures would exceed 90 F for several more days. “The lack of respite has been a concern throughout the period.”
Meanwhile, local heat relief centers saw
a surge in visits.
“We’re stuffed,” said Rev. Katie Sexton-Wood, executive director of the Arizona Faith Network, an interfaith nonprofit organization that organizes and operates 11 “heat relief centers” at Maricopa County places of worship.
Since May, 4,144 visitors had sought refuge in such centers, which are typically open from noon to 8 p.m. and provide sleeping mats, food, water and emergency responders. Trailers designed for showers and wellness checks visit each of the sites. Staff are trained to administer naloxone in the event of an overdose.
“It is dangerous to be outside with those temperatures. We’ve seen those numbers skyrocket over the past two weeks,” Sexton-Wood said of visits to participating churches, adding that each facility had moved its cooling center into larger rooms to meet demand.
Studies have shown that as the world warms, climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and duration of extreme heat events. The return of a naturally occurring climate pattern known as El Niño is also expected to amplify extreme weather events this year.
That’s what President Joe Biden tweeted Tuesday night that the heat was linked to the ongoing climate crisis.
“Right now, families across America are experiencing the devastating effects of the climate crisis — from flooding to extreme heat,” he wrote.
Berkeley Earth’s findings were broadly consistent with a separate report released last week by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, which found that both global surface temperatures and sea surface temperatures were hotter last month than any previous month in June.
The new and troubling milestones were fueled by what Berkeley Earth researchers say were particularly warm conditions in the North Atlantic, eastern equatorial Pacific, Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, southern Africa and Antarctica. A prolonged heat wave also baked much of the southern United States for weeks last month.
Scorching conditions are now enveloping even more of the country. In the Southwest, residents this week sought relief from weeks of triple-digit temperatures.
For some, staying cool during the long, devastating heat wave remains a major challenge.
Maria Larumve Cruz lives in the Rancheria mobile home community in Phoenix. On Tuesday afternoon, when it was 108 F outside, the conditions in her trailer felt even hotter.
Cruz, 61, said she has diabetes and is worried about the heat.
“Because I’m afraid I’ll get sunstroke and drop dead,” she said in an interview in Spanish.
The dangers of extreme heat are clear to Cruz, who saw a neighbor fall ill and die during the heat wave.
“She came out of the hospital after dialysis. She couldn’t handle the heat,” Cruz said in Spanish. “She went to her room to wait for her daughter. But the woman couldn’t handle it, and when her daughter arrived she was dead.”
Heat is expected to intensify in the southwest and much of the southern part of the country in the coming days.
Phoenix, which has already suffered at or above 110 F for 12 consecutive days, is expected to see temperatures reach 118 F over the weekend.
“Temperatures are likely to hit record territory this weekend,” the officials said Phoenix office of the National Weather Service tweeted Wednesday. “Be careful out there and please practice good heat safety.”
Denise Chow reported from Vancouver, British Columbia; Seattle’s Evan Bush; and Erin McLaughlin of Phoenix.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com