By Sharon Bernstein, Rachel Nostrant and Rich McKay
(Reuters) – Michael Shields has been maintaining swimming pools in the Phoenix area for years, enough time to hone a strategy for surviving the relentless heat that descends on this Arizona desert city each summer.
He usually gets up at 4 a.m., covers himself in protective gear, loads up on electrolyte potions, and drenches his hands and face in sunscreen. Ready to face the inferno, he arrives at his first client’s house well before dawn, when the temperature is already in the mid-90s Fahrenheit.
It is not surprising that there are days in the summer when the mercury rises well above 38 degrees Celsius. But for the past two weeks, the mercury reached 110 degrees F (43 C) or higher every afternoon, a range of temperature extremes that could extend into next week, breaking Phoenix’s 1974 record of 18 consecutive days, forecasters say.
Temperatures are expected to hit 115°F (46°C) on Saturday and 116°F (47°C) on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.
It’s been a heat wave that has brought many Phoenix residents to a standstill, even for summer-tested veterans like Shields, who says he’s avoided news reports about it.
“I don’t look at the weather,” said Shields, 67. “I can go crazy that way.”
Climate Check, a climate-focused real estate analysis group, reported that Phoenix experienced above 109°F (43°C) about seven days a year between 1985 and 2005. They estimate that by 2050, Phoenix residents will see an average of 44 days a year above that temperature.
Heat-related deaths in Phoenix’s Maricopa County have risen in recent years, from 338 in 2021 to 425 last year. So far in 2023, there will be 12 heat-related deaths, 55 of which are still under investigation.
As the latest heat wave progressed, aid workers and a government office focused on helping the city deal with the heat have distributed bottled water to the homeless and encouraged them to seek shelter in several public cooling stations.
Because the region doesn’t cool as much as it normally does at night, some cooling stations are extending their hours, said David Hondula, who directs the city’s heat response and mitigation office.
This summer, the city nearly doubled the number of volunteers handing out water, hats and sunscreen, he said. As the heat is exacerbated by a lack of shade trees, the city plans to offer grants to help people plant trees.
Hiking trails at nearby Piestewa Peak and Camelback Mountain are closed during the hottest hours of the day. Phoenix Parks and Recreation spokesman Adam Waltz said temperatures could reach 130 or 140 degrees (54 or 60 C) on the unshaded portions of the trails as the sun sets and the heat from the earth rises.
Kids’ outdoor sports have largely already ended because of the harsh summers, ending around June and starting again in September, Waltz said.
Despite the trend toward more very hot days, Phoenix residents tend to shrug off the heat, he said. They are just used to dealing with it.
But the long-term warming trend – with nights that don’t cool down and asphalt and concrete that trap heat and can themselves help raise temperatures – is a concern.
“People outside of Phoenix see 113 or 114 and gasp,” Waltz said. “Usually we take cover around 118 or 119. But it’s very hot and dangerous.”
HEATING DOME ‘PARKED’ OVERHEAD
The heat wave spreading across part of the U.S. from Oregon, down the West Coast, to the Southwest including Texas and on into Alabama is unusual, said Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park. , Maryland.
There is a mass of high-pressure air “parked” like a dome over the affected area, deflecting any rain and storm systems that could provide relief to the 100 million people under heat warnings and warnings, Taylor said.
Phoenix gets the worst of it as the air mass is centered exactly over the southwest.
“It’s been anchored there for days and days,” Taylor said. “This isn’t your typical summer heat.”
After reaching 115°F (46°C) on Saturday and 116°F (47°C) on Sunday, temperatures are forecast to remain above 110°F (43°C) for the next week, the weather service said.
Las Vegas is expected to reach 115 F on Saturday and 118 F (47 C) on Sunday; Death Valley could reach 127 (53 C) Saturday and 130 (54 C) Sunday, the agency said.
Outside of Phoenix in Mesa on Friday, science intern Emily Luberto donned long sleeves, pants and hiking boots to collect soil samples for a project studying the disease known as Valley Fever.
Her group, stationed at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, would normally hit the road around 8 a.m. and arrive in Mesa about 2-1/2 hours later. This week they started at 6am hoping to beat some of the heat. But at 8:30 am, temperatures had already risen above 100 (38 C).
It’s not just the heat coming from the sun that can be harmful. Asphalt temperatures can reach 160 degrees F (71 C) in the summer, the Arizona Humane Society wrote on its blog.
It’s so hot on the sidewalks and streets that dog walkers Cooper Burton won’t take pets after 9 a.m.
“We don’t want their paws to burn,” he said.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein, Rachel Nostrant, and Rich McKay; Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Jonathan Oatis)