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Phoenix’s month from hell

Phoenix’s month from hell


July was the world’s hottest month on record and one city in particular experienced extreme temperatures for a 31-day streak. How are places like Phoenix coping with the affects of climate change?

July brought extreme heat to parts of Europe, North America and Asia. This week, data from Copernicus, the EU’s global climate monitoring service, confirmed that it was the world’s hottest month on record.

In the United States, Phoenix in the desert state of Arizona seemed to bear the brunt of the extreme weather. It experienced 31 consecutive days of temperatures above 110 degrees fahrenheit – that’s more than 43 degrees celsius.

Phoenix residents described the experience as “miserable.” The city turned into a ghost-town as people retreated indoors to escape the hot weather. Going out in the daytime sun was dangerous, especially for young children and the elderly. As well as heat stress and dehydration, there were reports of residents getting third degree burns from touching metal door handles or falling on the pavement. 

For some, the heat was deadly: since the start of the summer 39 people are reported to have died from heat-related illness in Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located. The local medical examiner is investigating 312 more deaths. 

To cope with the heat, city authorities opened centres where people could access cold water and shade, including an air conditioned city bus that was parked in downtown Phoenix. 

Due to climate change, future summers may be even hotter, so Phoenix is implementing longer-term measures to keep urban areas cool. It is one of the first cities in the US to have a dedicated “Heat Response and Mitigation” team, whose job it is to adapt the city for hotter weather. They have planted trees, erected sun shades and had 100 miles of city pavements coated with a reflective surface, to keep ground temperatures down. 

Hot weather is already proving dangerous – even deadly – for places like Phoenix and if carbon emissions aren’t reduced, the effects of climate change could make some places uninhabitable. The Copernicus data showed that in July, the world reached an average monthly temperature that was 1.5 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels, the limit of warming agreed internationally at the Paris climate summit in 2015. 

Today’s episode was written and mixed by Ella Hill.