“It’s like being on the brink of death if you go for a walk.”
This is how my colleague Jack Healy described living in Phoenix, where temperatures reached 110°F (43°C) or higher for 13 straight days, with no end in sight.
Jack moved to Phoenix in 2021, chasing stories about the fast-growing American West. And this week, he did a great article about the sweltering heatwave currently blowing through the Southwest.
He wrote: “Summer in Phoenix is now a brutal match of ability. As the climate warms, meteorologists say dangerous levels of heat are rising earlier in the year, lasting longer — often after Halloween — and locking America’s hottest big city in. Sweltering jacket.
“In triple-digit temperatures, monkey bars crunch on kids’ hands, water bottles warp and seat belts feel like hot irons. Devoted runners run headlamps on their 4am jogging, when it’s still only 90 degrees, they come home drenched.” In sweat and instantly rolling on the sun shutters. Neighborhoods look like ghost towns in the middle of the day, with air conditioners roaring on rooftops offering the only sign of life.”
Jack speaks to a mail carrier named Rachel Williams, who has moved to Phoenix to escape winters in the Midwest. No matter how much water she drinks or sun protection she wears, her legs quiver and her head spins as she covers her way.
“I don’t even know how to do it,” she said. One community volunteer, who distributes water and ice to those in need, said the heat felt like “walking through a hair dryer.”
Jack knows he’s lucky. He has a job that allows him to spend time air conditioning. However, he had to develop his own strategies to adapt to living in an open air furnace.
He starts drinking water the moment he wakes up, to “satiate your system.” He wears long sleeves and trousers “to protect against the sun and the heat reflected from the sidewalk”. He freezes water bottles and takes them everywhere, “drinking them as they slowly thaw.” And he always has electrolytes on hand to replace the salts he sweats out.
One of the key parts of living in Phoenix, Jack told me, is “learning acceptance and living with extraordinarily sweating all the time.”
The experience of Jack and his Phoenician companions is becoming increasingly popular. California is preparing for a triple-digit heat wave. Heat warnings are in effect from Central Plains to South Florida this week. In Texas, 10 Laredo residents died of heat-related illnesses between June 15 and July 3.
“People are used to being without air conditioning, and they live without air conditioning,” the city’s medical examiner told my colleague David Goodman. “But it was very hot, and we lost a lot of people to it.”
Across the globe, temperatures are rising as the world enters a multi-year period of extreme warming, fueled by man-made climate change and a naturally occurring El Niño weather pattern, which releases a burst of heat into the atmosphere.
This week, temperatures are approaching 110 degrees Fahrenheit in Seville, Spain; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Marrakesh, Morocco. In places like Kuwait City and Basra, Iraq, it’s not uncommon for the heat index (a combination of air temperature and humidity) to reach 125 degrees in the morning, The Times reported last year.
And just last week, my colleagues in Mexico had a story about what it’s like to live in one of that country’s hottest cities, Hermosillo, where a 120-degree day isn’t uncommon.
But the dangers of heat extend far beyond those cities that regularly rank as the hottest in the world. As Somini Sengupta wrote in this April newsletter, “Extreme heat can be deceptively dangerous, even in places that are used to extreme heat.”
It’s not just Texas, Southern California and Florida. “This is not the full picture,” said Dr. Kai Chen, a professor at the Yale School of Public Health who studies health risks from climate change. “People are at risk everywhere.”
Dr. Chen and colleagues recently made the unveiling Interactive map From the United States that shows how vulnerable different parts of the country are to extreme heat.
Their research revealed that people in Costilla County, Colorado. Marion County, Indiana; And Essex County, Massachusetts, is also at high risk of boiling temperatures as heat waves affect more and more of the country.
Dr. Chen and his team looked at factors like income and education level, as well as how much green space there is in neighborhoods and whether people live alone.
Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, their research showed that in wealthier neighborhoods—where people are more likely to have air conditioning and do less work outdoors—the risks of extreme heat were less severe. In lower-income neighborhoods with fewer trees, the stakes went up dramatically.
“What we found is that for people of lower socioeconomic status, especially minorities, the health risks of heat are much higher,” said Dr. Chen.
Whether you’re in Phoenix, Baghdad, or New York, it’s important to know how to keep cool, stay hydrated, and watch for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. All of this and more is explained in this helpful guide to dealing with a heat wave.
Beat the heat with whiter whites
The whitest paint of all time is in the Guinness Book of Records, but this is not his greatest achievement.
The coating, created by scientists at Purdue University, cools buildings by bouncing 98 percent of the sun’s rays off the Earth’s surface, through the atmosphere and into deep space.
It doesn’t look all that different from regular white paint from the hardware store, which absorbs a lot of heat from the sun. By comparison, Purdue paint cools surfaces to temperatures lower than ambient — as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit during the day, and 19 degrees at night. This can reduce air conditioning use and help power grids that are struggling to deal with heat waves, since the coating doesn’t need any energy to work.
Using highly reflective paint, which takes at least a year to get ready for commercial use, can help offset the urban heat island effect. But there are limits to this type of cooling. We still need to stop sending greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to avoid further catastrophic warming, according to Jeremy Munday, a clean technology expert.
“This is certainly not a long-term solution to the climate problem,” he told my colleague Kara Buckley. “This is something you can do in the short term to mitigate bad problems while you’re trying to get everything under control.”
– Manuela Andreone
Other climate news
A high-pressure heat dome will strengthen over the Southwest at the weekend, bringing temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit from parts of California to Texas. While the air is dry, temperatures can reach record heat values, creating a severe risk of heat-related illnesses.
And the zone of extreme temperatures will expand on Friday, especially in the northwestern part of the country. From East Texas through the Southeast and all the way to Florida, the humidity could make temperatures as high as 105 to 115 degrees, and maybe even higher.
Coastal states in the South will experience above-average temperatures combined with high humidity, made worse by the unusually warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and western Atlantic, creating dangerous conditions, especially along coasts from South Texas to the Carolinas.
Urban areas are often several degrees hotter than surrounding areas, with less comfort at night. The heat is expected to continue until next week and may expand further east and north.
–Judson Jones And Camille Baker