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Phoenix could break its record for longest hot spell as extreme heat persists

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

OK. Now let's travel to a city that's even hotter than other parts of the United States.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The city is Phoenix. And it makes me sweat just to say this. Temperatures in Phoenix reached at least 110 degrees every day for two weeks now.

MARTÍNEZ: Katherine Davis-Young is with member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Katherine, I'm not kidding here. I called a friend in Phoenix at midnight to find out how hot it was, and he said 100 - 100 at midnight. So does it feel as bad as that sounds?

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG, BYLINE: It is intense. You know, water comes out of my tap scalding hot. If I'm inside and I put my hand to an exterior wall in my house, it's warm, and it really does never let up. I let my dog outside, usually around 6 a.m., and even early in the morning, I get a blast of hot air as soon as I open the door. So that's part of why this heat spell is so brutal. High temperatures of 115 or 118 make the headlines, but those overnight low temperatures haven't dipped below 85 now for about two weeks. Actually, on Wednesday night, the low temperature was 95. And that has only ever happened six times since record keeping began.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, what makes Phoenix, then, even worse than some other places that are getting hotter?

DAVIS-YOUNG: So those overnight lows are part of the way that climate change is even more extreme here. The group Climate Central says summer nighttime temperatures nationwide have risen about 2 1/2 half degrees since 1970. So that's true everywhere. But our summer nights have heated up nearly 6 degrees in that same time period. That's partly because we've just changed the natural landscape so drastically. David Hondula is director of Phoenix's Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. He tells me this is what's known as the urban heat island effect.

DAVID HONDULA: The dark, hard surfaces in the city tends to be really good at absorbing and retain heat and slowly rereleasing it at night compared to the much brighter surrounding sandy desert environment.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Basically, since cities tend to be paved over, they just can't cool off at night, and cities bring with them lots of machinery and cars and other things that keep temperatures high. So Phoenix has been one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country for several years, and that explosive growth has contributed to this heat island phenomenon.

MARTÍNEZ: And this kind of heat is dangerous, too.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Yes. The number of heat-related deaths in the metro area has been skyrocketing for the past decade. So finding ways to make this city more adaptable to heat is a huge priority.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. But Phoenix has never been a cool place. It's always been hot in Phoenix. So what's it doing to get a little relief?

DAVIS-YOUNG: So I mentioned Hondula's Office of Heat Response and Mitigation. That office is not even 2 years old. It's one of the first of its kind in the country. They're working on solutions like a special coating for pavement that prevents some of that heat absorption that causes the heat island effect. But they're also investing in more low-tech solutions, like just planting a lot more trees across the city to create shade. But Hondula tells me urban heat island really needs to be part of the conversation as our population and our city boundaries continue to grow.

MARTÍNEZ: That's KJZZ's Katherine Davis-Young. Thanks a lot, Katherine. Stay cool if you can.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF VANILLA BEACH'S "LEAFY GREENS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Katherine Davis-Young