Dangerous Heat Wave Sweeps Across US Southwest, Setting New Records

by Joshua Brown
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heat wave

The Southwest region of the United States is currently facing a perilous heat wave, with scorching temperatures in the triple digits that pose a potential threat to lives. As a result, various cooling centers have extended their operating hours, and emergency rooms are bracing themselves for an influx of individuals suffering from heat-related illnesses.

The National Weather Service in Phoenix issued a warning through a tweet, stating that near-record temperatures were anticipated over the weekend. They advised people to follow safety tips such as staying hydrated, checking on relatives and neighbors, and taking necessary precautions.

The weather service in Tucson echoed these concerns, emphasizing that extreme heat can be fatal and urging individuals not to become a statistic.

On Saturday, more than 110 million people, accounting for approximately one-third of the American population, were placed under extreme heat advisories, watches, and warnings. The blistering heat wave is expected to worsen in Nevada, Arizona, and California. Some desert areas are predicted to reach temperatures surpassing 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius) during the day, with overnight temperatures remaining above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 degrees Celsius).

To combat the intense heat, around 200 hydration stations and cooling centers have been established across the Phoenix area. These facilities, located in public spaces such as libraries, churches, and businesses, offer respite and distribute bottles of water to potentially thousands of people.

In downtown Phoenix, the Justa Center, which provides daytime services to older homeless individuals, has also transformed into a hydration station, offering free water bottles to those in need. However, due to funding and staffing limitations, the center can only operate until 5:30 p.m., leaving some individuals like Charles Sanders, a 59-year-old wheelchair user, to endure the sweltering nights in a worn-out tent behind the building. Sanders, originally from Denver, described this summer as the worst he has experienced in his four years in Phoenix.

David Hondula, the chief heat officer for the City of Phoenix, expressed concerns about the severe and dangerous conditions expected over the weekend. In response, some centers extended their hours, despite challenges posed by limited volunteers and funding. The Brian Garcia Welcome Center, specifically designed for homeless individuals in downtown Phoenix, planned to remain open 24/7 and direct people to shelters and air-conditioned spaces for the night. In previous heatwaves, the Phoenix Convention Center had provided nighttime cooling centers, but Hondula indicated that it was uncertain if that would be the case this year.

Stacy Champion, an advocate for homeless people in Phoenix, criticized the lack of nighttime cooling spaces for those without shelter, highlighting the predicament they face when temperatures soar.

In Las Vegas, casinos provided relief from the heat for many people. Libraries, police station lobbies, and other public places across Texas and California also opened their doors to offer temporary respite from the scorching conditions.

As the heat wave threatened to break Las Vegas’ all-time record high of 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47.2 degrees Celsius), emergency room doctors reported an increase in cases of heat-related illnesses. Dr. Ashkan Morim, an ER physician at Dignity Health Siena Hospital in suburban Henderson, Nevada, shared his experiences of treating severely dehydrated tourists who spent too long by the pools, as well as a stranded hiker who required significant fluid replacement.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, splash pads extended their hours, and public pools offered free admission to help residents cope with the extreme heat. Nonprofit organizations and churches in Boise, Idaho, provided water, sunscreen, and shelter to those in need.

Southern California experienced triple-digit temperatures in inland areas, with a high-pressure system expected to persist for a couple of weeks. Death Valley, California, recorded temperatures of 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius) by mid-Saturday, and forecasters predicted it could reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius) during the weekend. The hottest temperature ever recorded in Death Valley was 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.6 degrees Celsius) in July 1913, according to the National Park Service. The Los Angeles region, including Lancaster, Palmdale, and the San Fernando Valley, also saw temperatures surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius) in certain areas.

Recognizing the severity of the situation, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced the opening of cooling centers for residents to seek refuge from the extreme heat, cautioning about the associated risks.

The hot and dry conditions in Southern California resulted in several brush fires in sparsely populated, hilly areas southeast of Los Angeles. Firefighters battled three separate fires amid blistering heat and low humidity in Riverside County, with temperatures in some areas reaching the triple digits.

Phoenix, in particular, experienced its 16th consecutive day with temperatures surpassing 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius), putting it on track to break the record for the longest recorded stretch of such heat, which stands at 18 days in 1974.

In the late afternoon, the temperature in Phoenix reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit (47.8 degrees Celsius), breaking the previous daily record of 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47.2 degrees Celsius) set on July 15, 1998. The normal high for that date is 107 degrees Fahrenheit (41.6 degrees Celsius).

The dangerous nature of the heat was highlighted when police officers in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise discovered two elderly women enduring 114 degrees Fahrenheit (45.5 degrees Celsius) temperatures at home with a struggling and insufficient cooling unit. After taking the women to a senior center to cool off, the community services team of the police department purchased and installed an adequate air conditioner and multiple fans in the residence.

Extreme heat poses a significant risk to older individuals, especially those with pre-existing health conditions or who take medications that impair their body’s ability to cool down.

To monitor heat-related deaths, health officials in Las Vegas introduced a new database to track such cases occurring from April to October in the city and surrounding Clark County. Since April 11, seven deaths have been attributed to the heat, with 152 heat-related deaths recorded in the region last year.

Maricopa County in Arizona, which includes Phoenix, reported 12 confirmed heat-related deaths this year, half of which involved homeless individuals. An additional 55 deaths are under investigation. Last year, there were 425 confirmed heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County, with the majority occurring in July, and 80% of them happening outdoors.

While temperatures were not as severe along the Pacific coast, picket lines in the Los Angeles area experienced sweltering conditions as actors joined screenwriters in strikes against producers.

Due to concerns for animal safety, horseracing events were canceled at the California State Fair in Sacramento. Pet owners across the Southwest were advised to keep their animals mostly indoors.

This story has been updated to correct the number of people under heat advisories, watches, and warnings in the U.S. Over 110 million Americans live in those zones, not 110,000.

Contributors to this report include Michael Blood in Los Angeles, Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, and Susan Montoya in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about heat wave

Q: What is the current situation in the US Southwest regarding the heat wave?

A: The US Southwest is currently facing a dangerous heat wave, with scorching temperatures in the triple digits. New temperature records are being set, and millions of people are at risk. Cooling centers and precautions have been put in place to mitigate the effects of the extreme heat.

Q: What are some of the measures being taken to address the heat wave?

A: To address the heat wave, cooling centers and hydration stations have been established across the affected regions. Public spaces like libraries, churches, and businesses are offering respite and distributing water. Emergency rooms are preparing to treat individuals with heat-related illnesses, and authorities are advising people to stay hydrated and check on vulnerable individuals.

Q: How many people are under extreme heat advisories, watches, and warnings?

A: Over 110 million people, approximately one-third of the American population, are under extreme heat advisories, watches, and warnings. The heat wave is affecting states such as Nevada, Arizona, and California, where temperatures are predicted to soar above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 degrees Celsius) in some areas.

Q: What are the risks associated with extreme heat?

A: Extreme heat can pose serious health risks, especially for older individuals and those with pre-existing conditions. Heat-related illnesses, dehydration, and heatstroke are some of the dangers. It is crucial to take precautions such as staying hydrated, seeking cool environments, and avoiding prolonged exposure to high temperatures.

Q: Are there any reports of heat-related deaths in the affected areas?

A: Yes, there have been reports of heat-related deaths in the affected areas. Last year, Maricopa County in Arizona recorded 425 confirmed heat-associated deaths, and this year, 12 deaths have already been confirmed in the county. Health officials are closely monitoring heat-related deaths and taking steps to address this serious issue.

Q: How long is the heat wave expected to last?

A: The heat wave is expected to persist for some time, with temperatures remaining above normal for about two weeks. The specific duration may vary across different regions, but authorities are emphasizing the need for sustained precautions and vigilance during this period.

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