Monsoon storms would disrupt the heat, but experts say the conditions aren’t right for it.
phoenix • Even desert dwellers in the Southwest who are used to scorching summers are feeling the grip of an extreme heatwave this week, hitting Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and southern California with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees and excessive heat warnings.
To make matters worse, the region has been left high and dry, with no monsoon activity, which can help offset scorching temperatures. In Arizona, the monsoon season officially begins on June 15 and can bring violent storms with high winds, lightning, and heavy rain showers.
In Phoenix, Martin Brown and his black Lab Sammy escaped the heat Monday in the lobby of Circle the City, an air-conditioned walk-in health clinic for the homeless that is also designated a drinking station. Anyone can come by, sit down and grab a bottle of water or snacks like a burrito or ramen.
“We’re homeless, so we don’t have a choice. Well, we have a choice: we can sit in the park and sweat in the heat, but no thanks. That’s a lot better,” Brown said.
He spends five days a week there during business hours and then takes the bus to the park overnight to escape the “jungle hot” time of day.
Due to the heat, parts of the desert city look like ghost towns. A number of sunset concerts have been canceled and covered restaurant terraces with cooling mists stand empty.
According to the National Weather Service, on Tuesday, Phoenix was poised to hit the 12th straight day of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) or higher. The longest recorded distance to date was 18 days in 1974.
According to state climatologist Dr. Erinanne Saffell isn’t in the right place for the high pressures needed to generate monsoon storms, so the Phoenix metro area experiences below-average rainfall and dry conditions that favor hotter temperatures. Some experts also believe that this year’s heavier snowpack in the west took more energy to melt, delaying the progression of a summer high-pressure system.
“It just delayed everything,” Saffell said.
Stepping outside is like stepping into a giant hair dryer. Accidentally touching metal and other surfaces can feel like touching a hot stove.
All the concrete and pavement in sprawling Phoenix adds to the misery as sidewalks and buildings bake throughout the day and slowly release accumulated heat overnight. During the current wave, “low” temperatures will not drop below 90 degrees (32.2°C).
“In Phoenix in the early 20th century, there were an average of five days a year when it was 110 degrees or more. If you count the last 10 years, there are about 27 days a year. That’s five times more,” Saffell said.
Las Vegas could also see temperatures between 110 and 115 degrees (43.3 and 46.1 C) this weekend, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures in Albuquerque, New Mexico, were forecast to range from 100 to 103 (37.7 to 39.4C) on Tuesday, with an all-day heat warning in place. Temperatures in inland Southern California are expected to peak between 100 and 113 (37.7 and 45 C) Friday through Sunday.
As is the case every summer, libraries, churches and other facilities in Phoenix serve as cooling centers or drinking stations for those in need of sanctuary.
Isaiah Castellanos spent Monday morning at the downtown branch of the city library and planned to return after lunch. Castellanos, a liver transplant recipient, said his medication burned him easily. He can’t afford to go to the movies or museums, so the free public library is his go-to place to escape his air-conditioned home.
“It’s quiet. I turn on my music and read a book or watch YouTube with my headphones, but I also keep my cool,” Castellanos said.
Melody Santiago, who runs the Circle the City clinic’s front office, said some people are so grateful they come back with thank you cards or cookies. She is sure that more will be added in the next week.
“It’s getting really hot and they have nowhere else to go,” Santiago said. “It’s an eye opener: you never know, you could be there too.”