The hottest July: America’s Southwest boils in the heat

Phoenix residents have suffered burns after falling on the city’s scalding roads

Death Valley in the US
Temperatures in Death Valley reached 128°F (53.3°C) in July
(Image credit: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images)

July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, said David Wallace-Wells in The New York Times – and for the residents of Arizona, it certainly felt like it.

Only on the last day of the month did the state’s capital, Phoenix, finally register a temperature high below 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3°C). The city’s asphalt roads reached temperatures of 180°F (82.2°C) and local burn units have been full of patients who sustained their injuries by simply falling onto the scalding ground.

Even the region’s famous saguaro cactuses are collapsing in the heat. And conditions have been similarly extreme elsewhere in the US too. There has been a rise in injuries across the Southwest from people walking outside barefoot or touching hot door handles. Meanwhile, off the Florida Keys, ocean temperatures have reached “hot-tub” levels: one sensor registered a crazy 101.1°F (38.4°C).

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The dangers of extreme heat

“There is no denying that climate change is now a public health crisis,” said Leana S. Wen in The Washington Post. In the 1960s, America experienced an average of two heatwaves per year; now it’s six, and they’re getting worse. Extreme heat already kills more Americans than hurricanes or any other weather phenomenon. Some of those deaths are the result of heatstroke; others are caused by the exacerbation of underlying medical conditions.

Changing weather patterns are also leaving Americans vulnerable to more illnesses. Lyme disease, for instance, is spreading, and over the past few months there have been seven cases of locally acquired malaria in Florida and one case in Texas.

Heat waves are disasters

Federal leaders have yet to fully acknowledge this new reality, said the Los Angeles Times. No president, for instance, has ever issued an emergency or major disaster declaration for extreme heat. That needs to change. Federal disaster relief would provide local governments with much-needed funds to offset the costs of heat-related medical emergencies and to better protect themselves against future heatwaves.

Summer is supposed to be blissful, said Scott Simon on NPR. “School is out. Vacations are planned. We can go coatless, feel carefree.” But in the past few years, it has become a “season to fear”, with festivals, outdoor concerts and sporting events having to be cancelled because of unsafe temperatures and pollution from wildfires. Soon, we may spend most of July and August longing for winter.

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