PHOENIX (AP) — Extreme temperatures like the ones scalding the American West this week aren't just inconvenient; they're also deadly.
The record-breaking temperatures this week are a weather
emergency, according to scientists and health care
experts, with heat killing more people
in the United States
than all other natural disasters
combined. With more frequent and intense heat waves
likely due to climate change
and the worst drought
in modern history
, they say communities must better protect the vulnerable, such as homeless
people and the elderly.
“This heat has a significant impact on people and their health,” said Dr. Suganya Karuppana, chief medical director of Arizona
’s Valle del Sol community health clinics.
People, as well as plants
, require cooler temperatures at night to recover from the stress of extreme heat, according to scientists and doctors, but with overnight temperatures in the 90s, this isn't happening.
Karuppana observed that many people she sees do not own a car and must rely on public transportation in the Phoenix heat, walking through neighborhoods with few trees and waiting at bus and light rail stops with no or little shade. Others live in poorly ventilated mobile homes or without air conditioning, or work
outside in the sun as construction workers or landscapers.
Phoenix has been baking in temperatures above 115 degrees (46 Celsius) all week, with the high expected to reach 117 degrees (47 Celsius) on Friday, after reaching a record 118 degrees (48 Celsius) the day before. Daily records were set this week in Arizona, Nevada
, and California
, with Death
Valley setting a record 128 degrees (53 Celsius) on Thursday.
The very young, the very old, and people with heart or kidney disease, which disproportionately affects communities of color, are all vulnerable to high temperatures.
“We have been activated for Phoenix and are closely monitoring it,” said Nicolette Louissaint, executive director of the Washington
nonprofit Healthcare Ready, which was founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to assist communities in dealing with natural disasters.
Louissaint stated that her organization has assisted in heat emergencies by funding cooling centers that provide bottled water
and shade, as well as arranging transportation for elderly people who do not have cars but require dialysis or heart checks.
“Extreme heat really aggravates those kinds of serious medical conditions,” she explained, adding that it is especially difficult for people who do not have a lot of money
On social media
, Phoenix and other local governments in the Southwest remind people to drink plenty of water, stay out of the sun as much as possible, and take frequent breaks on hot days. They also warn people not to leave children
in vehicles, and they collaborate with nonprofits such as the Salvation Army to open facilities where people can cool off.
Stephanie Pullman, 72, died at her Phoenix-area home three years ago after Arizona's largest electric utility disconnected her service for failing to pay $51. A coroner listed "environmental heat exposure" as one of the causes of her death in 2018.
It resulted in a series of moratoriums on overdue electrical bills in Arizona that lasted until the end of last year, despite the coronavirus pandemic
. The utility, Arizona Public Service, says it has suspended service disconnections and waived late fees until Oct. 15.
As of Saturday, the county that includes Phoenix had reported three heat-related deaths, with an additional 20 deaths being investigated as possible heat-related causes.
Heat-related deaths in Maricopa County
have been on the rise in recent years, with 323 reported last year, the highest number ever recorded, with Black
people and Native Americans
suffering the highest rates. Approximately 80% of those who died were men.
Heat was a primary or secondary cause in the deaths of 146 homeless people last summer, when Phoenix experienced its hottest summer on record, according to the Maricopa County medical examiner.
According to scientists, the number of heat-related deaths in the West of the United States and around the world is only going to increase.
According to Gerald Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research
in Boulder, Colorado
, as average temperatures rise around the world, heat becomes more extreme.
“As the average climate warms as a result of increasing human-produced greenhouse gases
, we are seeing more intense, more frequent, and longer-lasting heat waves,” Meehl explained.
A study published last month estimated the number of heat deaths each year that can be attributed to human-caused global warming
. It included approximately 200 U.S. cities and discovered more than 1,100 deaths per year from climate change-caused heat, many of them in the East and Midwest, where many people lack air conditioning or are unaccustomed to hot weather.
When it comes to the dangers of heat extremes caused by global warming, Joellen Russell, a climate science
professor at the University
of Arizona in Tucson, says the Southwest is an early example of what the rest of the country will face later.
“I think we should hurry up,” she advised, “because our children are counting on us.”
Snow can be found on Twitter
and Borenstein can be found at https://twitter.com/borenbears.