Record-Breaking Heat Streak Burns Phoenix Amid Global Heatwave

by Michael Nguyen
Phoenix heatwave

Phoenix, renowned for its scorching summers, endured its 19th consecutive day of temperatures soaring to at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) on Tuesday, setting a new record amidst an international heatwave.

The crushing heat in Phoenix, which is arguably the result of anthropogenic climate change compounded by a new El Nino event, is causing heat records to tumble around the world. In the context of major U.S. urban centers, the Phoenix area’s predicament is unmatched.

Christopher Burt, a weather historian from the Weather Company, asserts that none of the top 25 most populous U.S. cities have experienced a similar sequence of 110-degree days or 90-degree nights like Phoenix.

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Researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Russ Vose and Ken Kunkel, found no major city with comparable warming streaks. However, smaller locations like Death Valley and Needles, California, and Casa Grande, Arizona, have had more extended streaks. Death Valley boasts an 84-day run of 110-degree temperatures and a 47-day sequence of nighttime temperatures remaining above 90, according to Vose.

In Phoenix, it’s not just the severe daytime temperatures that pose a threat. Absence of nighttime cooling can deprive people without air conditioning of a much-needed respite from the relentless heat, which is crucial for bodily functions.

With the city witnessing its ninth consecutive night of temperatures not dipping below 90, a new record was set, remarked National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Salerno. He described the situation as “quite grim with no overnight recovery.”

On Monday, Phoenix recorded the highest ever overnight low temperature of 95 (35 Celsius).

Despite the establishment of about 200 cooling and hydration centers across the metropolitan area, most close between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. due to staffing and budgetary constraints.

Persistent exposure to high temperatures can be more challenging than isolated hot days, particularly when nighttime temperatures remain high, impeding quality sleep, said Katharine Jacobs, the director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the University of Arizona.

The previous time Phoenix didn’t reach 110 F (43.3 C) was on June 29 when it registered 108 (42.2 C). The record of 18 days above 110, equaled on Monday, was first established in 1974. However, forecasts suggest this record is likely to be broken, with temperatures expected to exceed this level throughout the week.

David Hondula, Phoenix’s Chief Heat Officer, warned, “This will likely be a highly significant period in our health record concerning deaths and illnesses.”

Randy Cerveny, who verifies weather records for the World Meteorological Organization at Arizona State University, highlighted that Phoenix’s heatwave stems from both immediate and long-term factors.

The long-term cause is the steady rise in temperatures over the last few decades due to human-induced climate change. In contrast, the short-term cause is the persistence of a strong upper-level high-pressure ridge over the western United States in recent weeks.

This high pressure, or heat dome, has been stewing the Southwest for weeks, and when it shifted, it centered even more directly over Phoenix, reported National Weather Service meteorologist Isaac Smith.

Smith stated that this high pressure does more than deliver heat; it obstructs cooling rain and clouds, denying any relief. Although Phoenix’s monsoon season usually begins around June 15, providing rain and cloud cover, the city hasn’t seen measurable rain since mid-March.

Jacobs expressed that “while Phoenix is always hot in the summer, this heatwave is severe and persistent.” She added that “it’s a portent of future conditions, as the most reliable climate change projections are those directly related to the rise in global temperatures.”

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This report is brought to you from Washington by Borenstein. Follow Seth Borenstein and Anita Snow on Twitter at @borenbears and @asnowreports

Big Big News’s climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP retains full responsibility for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Phoenix heatwave

What record did Phoenix set in the heatwave?

Phoenix set a record for enduring 19 consecutive days of temperatures reaching at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius), during an international heatwave. This is the longest such streak among major U.S. cities.

How are these record temperatures linked to climate change?

These soaring temperatures are believed to be a result of anthropogenic climate change coupled with a new El Nino event. Long-term increasing temperatures due to human influence on climate contribute to these record-breaking heatwaves.

How are residents coping with the intense heat?

About 200 cooling and hydration centers have been set up across the Phoenix metropolitan area to provide respite from the relentless heat. However, many of these centers close in the late afternoon due to staffing and budget constraints.

Has the heatwave led to any health concerns?

Yes, the city’s Chief Heat Officer, David Hondula, warned that this heatwave will likely be a significant period in Phoenix’s health record concerning deaths and illnesses.

What weather conditions have led to this heatwave?

The immediate cause of the heatwave is the persistence of a strong upper-level high-pressure ridge, also known as a heat dome, over the western United States in recent weeks. The high pressure prevents cooling rain and clouds from providing relief. The last measurable rain in Phoenix was in mid-March.

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Dylan R July 18, 2023 - 10:54 pm

So its been 19 days with 110 degrees, right? Thats a damn oven! Hope everyones doing ok out there.

Laura P July 19, 2023 - 2:13 am

Its high time we start taking global warming seriously… look at what’s happening to Phoenix! This is just crazy!!!

Tony W July 19, 2023 - 12:17 pm

This ain’t normal, folks. We gotta do something about this climate change stuff, soon it might be too late 🙁

Joey M July 19, 2023 - 12:43 pm

wow, Phoenix is on fire! Literally…this is scary stuff. Climate change is no joke folks. It’s happening and it’s affecting all of us.

Marie K July 19, 2023 - 1:41 pm

Whoa, 110 degrees for 19 days straight? cant even imagine that! It’s a real desert out there. Stay safe people.


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