On Monday, Phoenix reached a miserable milestone: It was the first time since 1974 that it had 18 days in a row of 110-degree or higher temperatures. On Tuesday, it was poised to break that 49-year record and hit Day 19. The forecast called for a high of 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
People in the Southwest are used to brutal summers. Phoenix has had many days that hover over 100 degrees. Water misters spray yards, and neighborhoods and playgrounds brighten in the midday sun. Monsoons usually sweep in with refreshing relief. But this stagnant summer is testing even the hardiest, and putting many more people at risk.
“It just feels awful,” said Mazey Christensen, 20, a shaker at Sweet Republic, an ice cream shop in Phoenix.
Business at the store was steady; on blistering days, customers tend to go for fruity flavors like watermelon sorbet and pineapple whip. But they mostly visit the shop later in the day when the sun is not so hot.
The temperatures are “very extreme,” said Matt Salerno, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix. “We’re talking 10 degrees above where they normally are.” The city set another heat record Monday: eight straight days in which the nighttime temperature never dipped below 90 degrees.
The heat is particularly brutal and unavoidable at the sprawling homeless encampment in central Phoenix known as “The Zone.” Phoenix is slowly clearing tents block by block, but health workers in the Zone say regular counts show the number of people living there has stayed the same or even grown.
There are hardly any trees and, this July, people have suffered second-degree burns after passing out or falling asleep on the hot asphalt and sidewalks.
There are few sources of running water other than donated bottles and portable washing stations. So a spike outside a shelter often has a line of people pouring water over their heads and filling five-gallon jugs to take back to their tents.
“It just sucks it out of you,” said Charles Outen, 49, who said he spent the summer hopping between cooling centers during the day and sleeping at local churches at night to escape the heat.
For many in the city and across the Southwest, the scorching temperatures came with little relief: The monsoon season — which usually brings cooling thunderstorms to the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico — is arriving later than usual.
And throughout the South, the heat was not only strikingly severe, but also abnormally persistent.
This week, hot and humid conditions were expected to worsen along the Gulf Coast and throughout the Southeast, according to the Weather Service. across the country, about 100 million people are under heat alerts. And even parts of Northern states, including Michigan, New York and Vermont, recently did broken daily temperature records.
In Palm Springs, California, a desert resort town in Southern California, residents and tourists struggled to keep cool in temperatures that rose to around 115 degrees.
Zach Stone, who lives in his car, says the heat inside the vehicle is unbearable. To find relief, he came to the Demuth Community Center, where he worked on a puzzle in the gym.
“They have bread and water and there are vending machines and bathrooms, and that’s a huge convenience,” he said.
The heat can be especially brutal for those already dealing with medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, drug addiction and heart disease, said Dr. Jerald Moser, co-director of the emergency department at the Tucson Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. , where the heat wave brought more patients than usual. Temperatures are expected to top 110 degrees there this week.
People without shelter or access to water are especially at risk, Dr. Moser said, adding that many of them end up in emergency rooms after being found incapacitated on the ground, sometimes with secondary burns from the burning sidewalks.
“We see people passing out from full heat stroke with a core body temperature of 104 degrees,” he said.
The persistent heat in the Southwest is the result of a high pressure system that has been parked over the region for weeks. It has been particularly stubborn this year, delaying cooling storms.
The monsoon schedule varies from year to year, said Michael Crimmins, a professor of environmental science at the University of Arizona in Tucson, so while it’s not yet clear whether climate change is to blame for the persistence of the heat wave, it very likely is. made the daily high temperatures even higher.
In the Phoenix area, there have been 12 reported heat-related deaths this year through mid-June, and 40 more open cases where heat is being investigated as a factor, according to the medical examiner’s office in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix.
In Texas, the heat this year has prompted cotton plants, especially in the southern parts of the state, to bloom early. “It’s working prematurely, which is not good,” said Josh McGinty, an agronomist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, whose office in Corpus Christi is bordered by cotton fields.
Usually during this time of year, some bulbs would start to unfold. Instead, Mr. McGinty said, “every fruit on the plant is open, and they shouldn’t be. The heat just shuts down the plants. They’re in survival mode at this point.” But even that, he said, is better than last year, when the cotton crop suffered even more from droughts.
Further east, residents of Southern states are bracing for a long period of hot and humid days. Heat indices, which measure how hot it feels outside taking into account both temperature and humidity, were expected to top 100 degrees this week in many cities including Jackson, Miss., Montgomery, Ala., and Tallahassee, Fla.
On Monday afternoon, Ralph Horton was driving east on Interstate 20 toward his home in Tallapoosa, Ga., when he stopped in Vicksburg, Miss., for a break.
He traveled from Texas, where he spent a few days. “Oh my God, it was hot,” he said.
On Monday, he stood on an overlook overlooking the Mississippi River, anticipating a different kind of heat — one that’s oppressive even when temperatures don’t reach triple digits. “The humidity is deadly in this part of the country,” Mr Horton said.
The location where he was standing was already under a heat advisory, with heat indices expected to reach around 110 degrees on Tuesday.
Reporting was contributed by Maggie Miles, Jack Healy and Sheryl Kornman.