Southwest's Deadly Heat Wave Previews Life in a Warming World
Thermometers in the Phoenix area edged up to around 120 degrees for three straight days this week, flights were grounded as the rising temperatures decreased the air density, and the city's main burn treatment center saw twice its usual number of patients with burns caused by walking barefoot on hot pavement or getting into cars that had been heating up in the sun. Several heat-related deaths were reported in the Las Vegas area and in California.
In California, where San Diego County set a record at 124 degrees, some communities faced power outages as air conditioners ran non-stop. Arizona utility APS set a record for power demand, and said it would have been even higher without the recent increase in rooftop solar, which has added more midday power for homes and businesses.
"Heat waves like the one we are seeing in the Southwest are becoming much more frequent," said Robert E. Kopp, director of the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience Initiative at Rutgers University. "Looking forward, we expect the amount of extreme heat on the planet to continue increasing even more."
"I think we are seeing with the airplanes, for instance, our systems, many of them are built to historical standards, not to standards of the changing climate we live in," Kopp said. "As we push the climate out of the historical realm and into this new realm, we are starting to see some systems break down."