Heat Wave Broils Southern Half of the Country

We told you earlier this month that Phoenix had broken its record for the most days of 110 degrees or higher — and they just keep wracking them up.  The city has now had 50 days when the temperature reached 110 degrees or more, shattering the old record of 33.  And now the Gulf states are also experiencing record hot temps this week — in the areas just slammed by Hurricane Laura. Tens of thousands in Louisiana are still are without water and hundreds of thousands lack power, and the high temps and humidity combined are making it feel like 110 degrees.

Why This Matters:  Heat waves in the summer in the south and southwest seem like par for the course.  But they are actually getting worse and are more deadly than other severe weather.  Scientists who study heat waves report that they now occur more frequently and are longer than they were in the 20th century.  Indeed, they say there has been “a significant increase in the co-occurrence of meteorological drought and heatwaves over the U.S. since the 1960s, particularly over the southern states.”  This is not just a string of bad luck — this increase in hot weather is caused by climate changeClimate scientists now say there is ample evidence to connect individual extreme heatwaves to climate change, and the media should.

Beating The Heat in Phoenix

A recent study found that when it comes to adaptation, there is a significant gap between planning and implementation.  In Phoenix, in order to bridge this gap, a coalition of county officials, and environmental and community organizations created heat action plans for three of the hottest neighborhoods in the city by engaging directly with the residents.  Erin Stone reported for the Arizona Republic, that all three neighborhoods have largely Latino and Black populations and “decades-old discriminatory policies that created a disparity in investments in infrastructure, green spaces and other amenities compared to predominantly white communities.”

The project was called “Nature’s Cooling Systems” and it used storytelling and lived experience to facilitate understanding of complex ideas, and level the playing field between residents, organizations, and experts.  This deep engagement in each neighborhood resulted in three different “heat action plans” that reflected each neighborhood’s unique priorities and histories, far beyond the “typical heat mitigation recommendations of adding more shade, installing cool or green roofs, and using ‘cooler’ materials.”   The researchers, Stone reported, built maps of hot spots in each neighborhood using temperature data and insight from residents” so that the city officials could “understand the local concerns of each neighborhood and assist in adjusting existing heat mitigation strategies, such as the City of Phoenix Tree and Shade Master plan, to better fit the needs of individual neighborhoods.”

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