Speed Reads

Climate change

How Phoenix is planning for the 'Hurricane Katrina' of heat

Phoenix, Arizona, is already the hottest major city in the United States, and climate experts expect temperatures to keep rising to the point where there are more than an additional two dozen days per year when the thermometer hits 105 degrees or higher by 2050. That could lead to what Susan Clark, the director of the Sustainable Urban Environments Initiative at the University of Buffalo, describes as a "Hurricane Katrina"-size heat disaster in the U.S.'s fifth largest city, The Washington Post reports.

Such a scenario could be brought on by water becoming too hot, disrupting a power generation system dependent on cooling towers, or wildfires taking out power lines. Citizens would then potentially be deprived of water and air conditioning, two necessities in dangerous heat. Thankfully, there are efforts, led by both experts and community members, to make sure Phoenix is able to evade this type of disaster, the Post reports.

There's been a push to rely more on solar power, and local electric utilities are trying to install "microgrids" around the city that could serve as backup generators in case of an emergency. And Phoenix's chief sustainability officer, Mark Hartman, is developing a network of "cool corridors" which would mean no resident is more than a five-minute walk from water or shade. Another method is to plant more trees, which can lower air temperatures through a natural process called evapotranspiration; eventually, Hartman hopes the city's tree canopy expands to a quarter of its area. Similarly, there is a multi-million-dollar program to repave roads with materials that reflect rather than absorb heat as asphalt does.

Mayor Kate Gallego (D) says she hopes this all results in Phoenix becoming "the most sustainable desert city on the planet." Read more at The Washington Post.