Extreme Heat Ravages Arizona

Environmental Policy Brief #158 | By: Carlos Avalos | August 29, 2023

Photo taken from: nbcnews.com

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If you were wondering if summer 2023 felt a bit warmer than usual, you would be correct. Specifically, NASA reported July 2023 as Hottest Month on Record Ever Since 1880. The world is on track to experience record-setting high temperatures for the next five years because of heat-trapping pollution being released into the atmosphere.  Many places in the U.S have experienced record-breaking heat.  There was a major heatwave this summer where people living in the Western and Southwestern United States experienced extreme heat and record-breaking temperatures.  During certain times in July 2023 “about one-third of Americans were under excessive heat warnings, watches or advisories over the weekend, according to the National Weather Service, after a persistent heat dome hovering over Texas expanded to California, Nevada and Arizona.”

This extreme heat hitting certain parts of the U.S is large in part due to climate change and global warming. Climate change can be defined as “a change in global or regional climate patterns attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.”

Global warming is when “a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants.”

Analysis

In Arizona, the temperature has been oppressive during the summer months. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in downtown Phoenix clocked in for 30 plus consecutive days of temperatures above 110 degrees in July. This beat the old record set almost sixty years ago in June of 1974 where a streak of 18 days was set. In July Phoenix also set a record for highest monthly average temperature for any U.S city at 102.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

So far this year 25 people have died due to the extreme heat in Maricopa County. Around 249 heat related deaths are currently under investigation. Last year 425 people dies in Maricopas County due to the heat.

The heat is so extreme that Arizona Hospitals are seeing severe degree burns just by people being exposed to the concrete by falling on it. If part of a person’s body is left on the pavement for minutes the part of the skin exposed can be completely damaged. Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are filling up the emergency rooms with an abnormal number of Hospitals being filled to the brink. In Arizona,  “Hospitals have not been this busy with overflow since a few peaks in the Covid pandemic.”

The heat in Arizona is also taking its toll on agriculture, flowers, and the Saguaro Cactus. Extreme heat is causing harm to Honeybees, a species vital to our ecosystem, especially food production; dire heat is killing honey bees and melting their homes. Wheat Kernels are shrinking because of the heat causing their protein levels to rise which in turn CAUSES crop yields to be half of what farmer usually produce; canola oil and safflower seeds are being damaged by the heat making many fruits and vegetables too soft to harvest. Some steps to combat these issues are harvesting at night, spraying crops with water vapor, or using netting on their crops.

In Arizona, probably the biggest tell all that there is something extremely wrong, is the story of what’s happening to the the Saguaro Cactus.

The severe heat in Arizona is causing the Saguaro cactus to lose limbs or to completely fall over on itself. Extreme heat and lack of monsoon rain in Arizona are testing the preconceived notion that “plants could adapt to high temperatures and sustain themselves in a drought.”

The federal government is hearing the SOS sent out by many states and is responding. “A bipartisan infrastructure law sets aside $20 billion to upgrade electrical grids to be able to withstand stronger storms and heatwaves; President Biden also said he asked Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to issue a “Heat Hazard Alert,” which gives workers federal heat-related protections.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., co-sponsored the Extreme Heat Emergency Act of 2023 last month with Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., and Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas. The legislation would make extreme heat a major disaster qualifying event under FEMA rules.

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