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A heat wave like no other. Here's how Arizona has been dealing with it

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You've heard the saying: At least it's a dry heat. That might be true when comparing 90 degree temperatures in Arizona to Texas or Florida, but when dealing with truly extreme heat, hot is hot.

With more than two weeks with temperatures above 110 degrees, ABC Arizona meteorologist Jorge Torres talks with the team about the impacts of this record-breaking heat wave on the people, the power grid, and everyday life in Phoenix.

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About the Across the Sky podcast

The weekly weather podcast is hosted on a rotation by the Lee Weather team:

Matt Holiner of Lee Enterprises' Midwest group in Chicago, Kirsten Lang of the Tulsa World in Oklahoma, Joe Martucci of the Press of Atlantic City, N.J., and Sean Sublette of the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Virginia.

Episode transcript

Note: The following transcript was created by Adobe Premiere and may contain misspellings and other inaccuracies as it was generated automatically:

Hello, everyone. I'm meteorologist Sean Sublette. And welcome to Across the Sky, our National Lee Enterprises weather podcast. Lee Enterprises has print and digital news operations in more than 70 locations across the country, including my home base in Richmond, Virginia. I'm joined by my meteorology colleagues from across the sky, Matt Holiner in Chicago, and Kirsten Lang in Tulsa. Our pal Joe Martucci, away from the office today, July 25th.

And we bring that up we often don’t talk about a specific day, but we bring that up because our guest this week is Jose Torres, a meteorologist at the ABC station in Phoenix, Arizona. They have have had more than two consecutive weeks with temperatures of 110 degrees or hotter. And we want to talk about how the city has been handling it, how the people have been handling it.

And, you know, Matt, Kirsten, some of the things you talked about are things that we normally never have to think about here in the central United States or the eastern United States. And some of it was very eye opening.

Yeah. Listen, when he starts to talk about what part of the hospital is actually seeing capacity during this time, because I think that was something that really was surprising to me.

Yeah. And we got into the discussion because, you know, I've seen some people kind of dismiss the heat in Arizona and the Southwest, like, oh, it's just a dry heat and or he's from Texas, but I'm from Texas. So I was like, I want to talk to a guy who has experienced both the heat and humidity and the dry heat and really get an idea of which is worse.

I just the same. So diving in and hearing his description, comparing Texas and Arizona, I really enjoyed that.

Oh, yes, we hear that all the time. Oh, but it's a dry heat, so he'll get into that. I'll talk about power grid, I'll talk about water supply, infrastructure, all that stuff coming up. Or he is a native of Texas, as you alluded to, as a graduate of Texas A&M before he was in Phenix, he worked on the air in El Paso and Albuquerque.

So let's get right to our conversation with Jorge Tourists. Meteorologist Abc15 in Phenix, Arizona.

Jorge, thank you so much for joining us to talk about this brutal heat you've had in Arizona and in Phenix in particular. First off, I want to talk about Phenix. For people who aren't from around Phenix and Arizona and the Southwest, they had this idea. Well, of course, it's hot. It's Phenix. But but talk a little bit about how it is different this year, both in scope and how long this heat wave has been going on.

Yeah, shot. So a lot of people outside of Phenix, the Valley in Arizona think of Phenix as a brutally place which for most the summer it is. The difference this year is the longevity of this excessive heat wave. Now, we actually have to start with the beginning of the year. What it was a cooler and wetter start across the west, including here in Arizona.

We didn't really start seeing the one tens until late June. And we usually get them in mid-June. In fact, June tends to be on average the hottest month of the year in Phenix. But July of 2023 is going to beat that by a landslide. We have had now 25 consecutive days with highs at or above 110 degrees. That blows the all time record of 18 days that was set back in June of 1974.

That's just one aspect. The other aspect is just how warm it stays even at night. That's the other thing we're noticing a lot more nights where lows don't even get below 90 degrees. We are now on 15 straight days with lows at or above 90. So the city and much of the valley doesn't even cool down at night.

So that's what's made this particular stretch not just extreme, but also dangerous and unfortunately even deadly.

So, George, you mentioned that it's been dangerous and it's been deadly. You know, working in the news business. I'm sure you've heard a lot of stories. You know what? How how are you seeing people cope with the heat in different ways than maybe they wouldn't have in the past just with this unrelenting heat wave that you've had.

So one of the things here at ABC 13 that that we we promote is obviously people are trying to stay inside for as long as they possibly can safely between the hours of usually we would say from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but it's already around 100 degrees by 9 a.m. here. So we're telling people to stay inside at from essentially 9:00 until six if they can.

Obviously, not a lot of people can because you have to be outside their job makes them be outside. So another thing we always say obviously is stay hydrated, drink plenty of water, electrolyte drinks. But we are also encouraging people to go to their nearest cooling centers. So one thing that the city of Phenix and Maricopa County has done very well is provide cooling centers for people to find an adequate location, not only to stay cool if they can, for a long period of time, but also to get water.

And that's one thing we're seeing a lot here is a lot of cooperation between government agencies and entities to keep people who don't really have the luxury or the necessity or to buy a shelter to find a cooler space. And it gives them that opportunity, along with obviously malls being open, movie theaters, large places where people can go in and stay cool and.

HAURI I'm curious about how disruptive this has been on everyday life there. Have there been certain adjustments to workers who have to be outside adjustments in their hours or maybe more frequent breaks or more water provided? And have there been any outdoor activities? I mean, we're talking about summertime here when people want to be going out and doing stuff.

Have there been any events that have been canceled because of the heat?

There was one just recently. There was a concerts by the group Disturbed that was canceled as a result of the Heat because it was in an outdoor amphitheater that in July temperatures begin to cool down a bit usually. So it's okay for the most part. But obviously this July has been unprecedented when it comes to this relentless heat.

So that is one event that was canceled as a result of the excessive heat. We've had a lot of other events where people have raised their concerns or voiced their concerns regarding temperatures with a few concerts, but they've still gone off as far as other events. Now we're starting to see more schools open back up because a lot of schools here in the valley, which will be referred to the Phenix metro area, are year round.

So they're beginning to open up. They're still adding practices, but yes, they are. They're giving their players a more breaks for water, obviously, along with many crews who work outside. We're talking construction workers, we're talking landscapers. They're still in it, starting very early. A lot of these crews start before sunrise when it's obviously still hot, still temperatures in the nineties.

But they, from what we're understanding, are getting the breaks in order to stay cool and still do the job that they've been tasked to do.

Yeah, but the stuff that has to be done outside, I get that entirely. But also they get in this kind of heat. Are there things happening to infrastructure? I've heard, you know, you hear the horror stories about pavement starting to melt. When it gets a certain temperature threshold, it takes a lot longer or a lot more running room for aircraft to get going because the air density isn't sufficient to get lift on the wings.

Any of that kind of stuff starting to happen. From what you've seen.

Nothing that's widespread, at least from what we have been reporting. Now we heard of a lot more air conditioning units go out because they're all in for such a long time. So we're seeing a lot more of these air conditioning companies. The backs going to repair a lot of these residential areas that don't have AC working. And in a place like Phenix in the middle of summer, that can be dangerous and that can be deadly.

So we are seeing that. Something else we're noticing not so much from the infrastructure standpoint, but from the public health standpoint. A lot more burn victims going to the Arizona birds that are as a result of falling on the pavement. So we're hearing reports of first degree, second degree, even third degree burns from just being on the pavement, not just falling on it, but for those who unfortunately don't have a home to go to, are sleeping on it at night and throughout the day.

So some of the birds, the Arizona birds that are are at capacity, a lot of them due to, unfortunately, some of the burn victims as a result of just how hot the pavement and the asphalt can be in excess of 150, even 160 degrees. So that's something we're noticing a lot, too.

All right. So as you mentioned before, as we get into July, that's normally when the temperatures tend to back off. And I'm assuming that's because it's about the time of year when when the monsoon circulation is expected to show up. Talk a little bit about that in terms of the Phenix climate, when when you oftentimes expect the worst, the heat to break and the latter part of the summer, talk about the monsoon circulation, why it's important.

And and I'm imagining people are really itching for it to show up soon.

Everyone here in Arizona is waiting for the monsoon to wrap up. And yes, for those of you who are watching outside of Arizona in the southwest, a part of the United States does have its own version of the monsoon. It's not as intense as the one you're used to hearing about, say, in India. But we do have our monsoon season.

We have our seasonal. Winship that starts to occur mainly in July, specifically for Arizona, but the onset starts in June in northern Mexico. What happens is that once you start to get those temperatures in the southwest really beginning to heat up, which is around June, we start to see that wind shift from the south and we get more moisture coming in.

And then by July, mid-July is when we really begin to see that monsoon flow really park itself over Arizona and the southwest. And that's when we start to see those thunderstorms in the afternoon producing some of those famous videos. You see it up walls of dust called haboob. So that we had, what, about a week ago, and then we start to see more storms develop.

But that's when we get a lot of our rainfall that being said, because most of the early summer months were cooler than average, the monsoon was delayed. So that's why July has been one of the hottest months on record and may actually be the hottest month on record for Phenix because we really haven't had the monsoon moisture and the storms to go with it to really drop those temperatures.

And we're still waiting. But there are signs here in the next week or two that finally we could start to see some signs of life with the monsoon statewide.

Yeah, that was something that that I was looking at prior to talking with you. Is that that long term forecasting kind of, you know, when when relief was inside, there was a lot of promise. Yeah, of course, it can't last forever. But, you know, looking at that, how what is it looking like is you look like August is going to be a little bit better month for you guys there then.

Yes. As of now, it does appear that August looks a little more promising as far as a if not a wetter than average red, at least a near normal, which we will take obviously starting off with July being bone dry. And actually when it comes to rainfall, we have already exceeded 120 days without measurable precipitation at Benue State Harbor, which is where the official observations are taken.

And that's already about to approach the top five list as far as long as stretches without rape. Also, you add on the 110 degree days, we've had the 90 degree days we've had and no rain over a span of months. So everyone's already like we're we're tired of this. We want some relief. But it does appear that that August is looking, if not where we should be on in a given month for August during the monsoon, maybe above.

Yeah. I'm imagining where you should be for this time of year will will be a welcome relief. We're going to take a quick break then we'll have more with George Torres from Abc15 in Phenix, Arizona. And the blistering heat wave they're going through on across the sky will be right back. And welcome back to the Across the Sky podcast.

I'm meteorologist Sean Sublette along with Houston Lang and Matt Hollander and our guest this week as well, he tourists from Abc15 in Arizona, Phenix, Arizona, where they are in the midst of an absolutely brutal and record shattering heat wave already I know 25 days above 110 and counting. This heat wave so bad, so prolonged. How what is kind of the feeling on the street as we're in terms of how people are perceiving this?

Do they kind of see this as like, you know what, maybe this climate change thing is starting to show up? Are they kind of seeing it as well? You know, it's just Arizona and we're used to it. What's kind of the feeling out there in the public as you kind of mingle around and and hear people talking about this heat wave?

Well, I'm getting different reactions from from different people. You have those who are lifers here in Arizona, specifically here in the Phenix Metro, and they're like, it's Phenix in summer. It's going to be hot. It's going to be 110 degrees every now and then. The the issue is that it's so prolonged and we keep breaking these records essentially daily, not just during the afternoon works out or ten and 15 or hottest temperatures so far this year, 190.

It's happened twice already, and that hasn't happened since about 2017. So a lot of these temperatures haven't happened in a very long time. And so you have those who are like, you know what, this in 2020, we thought that was bad, where we had to be three days that entire year with highs and above 110. That's still a record.

But you're seeing this happening more frequently, especially since the early 2000s. So people are also taking notice like, you know, I don't remember it being like this for so long. And then the other group that some people tend to forget about are those that just moved here. The one thing about four years is it's a vastly growing community and we have people moving in from the Midwest, from California, from all parts of the country and the world.

And for them, this is their first summer in Arizona and they are experiencing one of the worst on record. So for them is like, is it normally like this? And we're like, it's not normally like this, but it may be a new normal if we continue going the path we are worldwide In.

HAURI, I want to talk about the kind of heat. So you're from Texas? I'm from Texas as well. And so we are used to the heat and then one of the arguments that comes up are people in Texas and the Southeast is like, well, we deal with the humidity. It's the heat and humidity out west. And Phenix and Arizona, it's a dry heat, so no big deal.

So is that true? Is a dry heat really better? Does the humidity make a difference or is hot? Just hot?

It's hot. It's hot everywhere. When it's 100 degrees with no humidity, obviously that feels way better than 100 degrees with so much humidity like in Texas, which I don't miss going up there and and the summers were just brutal. But when you get to 110, when you get to 115, even when there's little humidity, it hurts like you feel it.

It's a you know, it's a dry heat. But so is an oven. So is a jet engine. You don't want that in your face all day long. As as much as I don't miss that humidity in Texas, 100 degrees or 95 degrees with humidity, I'll take that over 115 hundred and 1718 degrees, even close to 190. It's a different kind of heat and it's a heat that that no one wants to be in.

But yeah, millions of people that are in it every day, myself included.

And just to follow up on that, too, I'm curious about the wind situation in Phenix, because one thing that was I noticed a difference when I grew up in San Antonio for my three years living in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, which is near the Texas coast and the valley compared to San Antonio, there was a lot more wind.

We got a lot more sea breeze activity. So we had a lot of hot, humid days, but there were quite a few days where it was breezy and that did make a difference when there was a breeze and you could like at least below the sweat of your body, it seemed to make a difference. The wind can help too.

So what is the wind situation like thing, especially during this heat?

Well, during the summer, it doesn't really get super windy unless you have storms nearby. We we've had a couple here and there, but in the afternoons we do get some occasional breezes. Wind speeds around 10 to 15. Well, we have 10 to 50 mile an hour wind speeds from a dry place with temperatures at 110, 115 degrees. It feels like a furnace is blowing in your face.

So it doesn't give you that cool feeling like you would on the on the Texas coast here. It's just like a furnace is on and it's blowing hot air in your face. So it's really not comfortable even though we do have breezy days.

And something else I was just curious about was how are things going, I guess with the electric grid there? You guys seeing any sort of power outages due to the heat?

We are seeing power outages here and there across the valley, but they're not really prolonged. It is not a major outage issue across the valley and we don't expect it to be. The grid here is is different than than there is the one people know about in Texas with ERCOT, where they've had their issues and their concerns regarding demand over the past few years.

We don't really have that concern here. But we do have those occasional power outages in certain communities and they can go on for a couple of hours, which is concerning. But the local energy and utility groups here, APS or SRP, they are on top of it for the most part when it comes to getting the power back on for those communities that are dealing with the outage, whether it be short term or long term.

One other question I had kind of kind of dovetails off of that going back to water supply. I mean, I know it was a little bit wetter at the beginning of the year. Water supply. Okay. You know, we hear a lot of the horror stories here in the United States about the West is in deep trouble running out of water.

It was a wet winter, so I'm guessing that that's helped everybody out a fair bit, at least for for a summer or two. But how is the water situation this summer there in Arizona?

You're right in that the winter it was a wet one across the west from California to Colorado, where a lot of Arizona's water supply comes from the Colorado River and the lake levels at Powell and Mead have gone up quite a bit over the past few months. So that is a welcome sight for us here in Arizona, where a lot of our water supply comes from the Colorado and also the Salt and Verde rivers, which are more local, and they haven't really been impacted as much, thankfully.

The other concern, obviously, is our groundwater supply. And that's where we've had more concern because the majority of groundwater in the state of Arizona is unregulated and you have a do a few places, including Phenix, that has a regulated groundwater supply. In fact, earlier this year, the governor of Arizona, Hobbs, announced that within the Phenix AMA or active management area companies who are only going to use groundwater as far as the water supply for certain communities within the Phenix metro area have to show proof of another form of water.

And it can't just be solely groundwater if not, and that they're building a large enough community residential or subdivision, then they cannot be approved to built. So that is something that is brand new as of this year, some companies will not be allowed to build if they are only showing groundwater as their only source of water for the project that they are building.

So that's something that's new that our governor has imposed here.

Yeah. I'm curious about what other long term discussions are happening since over the last few years we've seen these extended heat waves. This seems to be something that is going to be an issue moving forward. The heat situation getting worse, perhaps extended droughts. What are some of the other discussions that are going on as far as long term planning, preparing Phenix?

Cause you're obviously not going to move the entire city of Phenix out of their population. It's just been going up. So what kind of long term discussions are happening about what can be done moving forward in the future to be.

Better prepared for these heat? Well, one thing when it comes to the heat waves, City of Phenix is the first city in the country that has its own Office of Heat and Mitigation. It was put into place a couple of years ago, and it's looking at ways to mitigate the the extreme heat that we deal with here in Phenix, you know, one of the hottest metropolitan cities in the country.

And so the office is coming up, ways to try to be resilient when it comes to allowing the valley to cool down a bit by making more parks with trees, things of that nature. So that is something that the city is really, really putting an emphasis on because the Phenix is growing and it's going to grow quite a bit.

People for the most part, for the most part, love Phenix and Arizona. When it's not 100 to 115 degrees. You have the rest of the year where temperatures are very comfortable. And so our our weather conditions. But in the summer months, obviously, it can get dangerously hot like like this summer so far. So that's one thing that looking long term the city is working on, too, to find ways to make the city a bit cooler than it has been.

Yeah, I understand that for sure, because I think we all know the planets in the cities are only getting hotter. We've got urban heat to contend with on top of the the planetary warming signals. So it's good that they're thinking ahead for for the long term planning or anything else you wanted to share before we turn you loose and let you get back to your day job.

Mean one thing we're constantly doing here at Abc15 is is talking about these issues, whether it be extreme heat, whether it be air quality, whether it be, as you guys talked about or asked about the water concerns here in Arizona and across the west. And we are continuing to tell the public that, you know, this is something that we're going to have to deal with unless changes are made, not just at the local level or in your home, but also at the government level, higher up from state and federal.

And, you know, the more report on it, the more people are understanding the issues and the more we could see some change. I mean, it's not stuff that we're asking for. We're just saying, you know, this doesn't happen. That's going to happen. But if this happens, that'll happen. So that's all we're doing here at ABC 15 is just talking about the important issues when it comes to climate specifically, but pertains to Phenix and Arizona and let the viewers know what's happening.

Good man, good man. So sorry. Thank you so much for taking the time with us today. And do your best to stay cool to all of our all of your colleagues there at Abc15, too, to stay cool as well. And hopefully we'll talk with you again soon.

All right. Looking forward to it. Hopefully by then, temperatures here will be much, much cooler.

Yeah, we'll see. We'll see if we'll get a good haboob going for later this summer. Hit the fall. Take care, man.

Hurry. I'll take care. Thank you.

What a great conversation with Foray today in the midst of a heat wave that, frankly, is very hard for me to even imagine. And one of the things I'm glad you all brought up was the power situation, because it's really hard to imagine going without electricity, an air conditioner, air conditioning in a situation like this. I remember as a kid, you know, in the seventies and eighties, we didn't have air conditioning in the hot Virginia summers.

And that was that was bad enough. I really can't fathom what it would be like to to be in a house without air conditioning in Phenix, Arizona, right about now.

Well, it just got me thinking about, you know, beyond, you know, the southeast and southwest, where, you know, most folks at least have air conditioned. Now, there is the issue where the cost is so high this people are not running their air conditioners in this extreme, which is a scary thought. But to me, you know, we're seeing the heat expand to more places farther north.

And these heat waves aren't just limited to the southwest, but they're happening in the Midwest. The northwest, the northeast, and places where some people don't even ever do this. And again, that was the biggest shock to me moving from Texas to Chicago. How there are apartments here, there are homes here that don't even have air conditioning. And I think moving forward, you're going to see less and less than that and a pivot where, you know, so much of the focus has been on the heat or the cold winters and making sure people have heat to a more of a shift that in the summer we got to make sure people have air conditioning and no

longer is it okay to not have air conditioning in a lot of places. With the temperatures on the rise, that's becoming a necessity, not an option.

Yeah, And you know, we have in Tulsa, whenever we have such hot conditions and I'm sure they have it there too, you have those cooling stations which, you know, you got to have those across the city when you have temperatures like this for some people who, you know, forget the the fact if they have it, their power is going out.

Some of them, you know, may be homeless and don't have a spot at all to to receive any kind of AC. And so those cooling stations are really important as well in situations like this just to you know, just to stay healthy. It'll hit you hard and it'll hit you fast. That heat I visit out there quite often.

I know I've talked about this before, but I've been was out there and it is different. You know, he described it as feeling like you're in an oven. And I think that was like spot on.

Yeah, we're going to stay with heat as the theme there. Our next podcast. We've got Zeke House father coming up next time. He's a climate scientist who's written a lot extensively for both carbon brief and Berkeley Earth there on the West Coast in California. We're going to be talking about the hot ocean waters. You know, we've heard a lot about how how hot the oceans have been this season.

We're going to talk a little bit about what's causing that. It's not just the the warming climate, but there are other things going on. He's he's really good at that. So looking forward to having our Zeke. And then we're going to a couple more more kind of ocean and and safety kind of things whether it's, you know, coastal safety or then returning to hurricanes before we get into we're getting close to football season, right?

So we're going to have somebody from the Korey Stringer Institute or Korey Stringer Institute excuse me, Doug Kass of there to talk about heat and football practice. Because you put those pads on, you drawn the wind sprints and the August heat, and that puts you at risk as well. So now we're going to close up shop for this week.

So for Kirsten Lang in Tulsa, Matt Holiner in Chicago, and our pal Joe Martucci in Atlantic City, I’m meteorologist Sean Sublette, thank you for listening to the Across the Sky podcast and we'll see you next time.

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