Phoenix set a record high temperature of 115°F at 1:32p.m. on Thursday afternoon. Then, 43 minutes later, it set another as the temperature gauge at Sky Harbor International crept up again to 116.
Yuma, Arizona tied its record high of 117 for this date, and nearby Tacna hit 120.
Arizona hasn’t just been suffering high maximum temperatures — it’s the high minimum temperatures too. Thursday set a record high minimum temperature of 93, up from the previous record of 90 set back in 2006. “We have not dropped below the 90 degree mark since Tuesday morning, if you can believe that,” said Dr. Matt Pace of Phoenix’s NBC 12 News.
The Salt River Project, one of Arizona’s largest utilities, reported that on Wednesday it saw record demand from its Phoenix area customers, causing it to deliver the most power to them it ever has — 6,707 megawatts.
Phoenix gets hotter than some more rural areas because of the urban heat island effect, which causes the dense and smooth structures in a city (think cement) to absorb more heat than natural landscape does, and allow for more convection and less turbulence than rougher rural areas do. Some in the city are turning to cool roofs and vegetation to cut this effect down a little.
When hikers take to the trails without adequate hydration, they need to be rescued, something that is happening more and more. Last year there were 153 mountain rescues for stranded hikers in total. Just through the first six and a half months of this year, firefighters have reported 133 such rescues, and two deaths. So many of them are caused by extreme temperatures that the Phoenix Fire Department asked residents to just stay indoors between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. through Thursday evening.
“More people die from heat than any other weather event,” Dr. Bob England, director of the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, told the Arizona Republic.
The Salvation Army set up nine different hydration stations with ice and water across the valley, and local shelters told CBS 5 that it anticipated a spike in demand for shelters — hundreds more people than normal.
High school football games begin in Arizona before September, which means that practices start next week for many teams — Week Zero. Several Phoenix-area teams, rather than worrying about the constant hydration, burns, and other health problems brought by extreme heat, have just left town, going up into the mountains, or leaving the state for cooler temperatures.
It’s not just people that suffer in the extreme heat — zoo animals that are not used to the Arizona summers are kept alive and comfortable using some fairly unorthodox means. Sumatran tigers veg out on a a frozen block of blood and fish. Elephants and other animals get sprayed with water. Lions get special cooling pads with cold water flowing through tubes underneath it. Last month, sherriff’s deputies found 20 dead dogs in a kennel that had lost its air conditioning.
Local plant nurseries sell shade cloth, which gardeners drape over plants that can’t take the extreme heat and direct sunlight.
A volunteer fire department in Cashion, Oklahoma fought a 10-hour blaze on Wednesday and with a heat index of over 100 degrees, they depleted their drinking water supply. Looking at a weekend of over a hundred degree temperatures, the department is asking for donations of water and Gatorade. Standards in California require that a quart of water be available for firefighters every hour — in hot, dry climates this need could increase to three quarts an hour, or three gallons a day.
Arizona, like much of the Southwest, can expect extreme weather and temperatures to increase as humans continue to release more heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere — but one of the main impacts, according to the recent National Climate Assessment, will be drought. And there is not much margin for error as the population grows: a new NASA study found that the Colorado River basin has lost enough groundwater to fill two Lake Meads.