Historic U.S. Heat Wave by the Numbers

From a story on axios.com by Rebecca Falconer headlined “Historic and enduring U.S. heat wave by the numbers”:

The “dangerous, long-lived, and record-breaking” heat wave is set to continue across large portions of the U.S. West into the northern Plains and across parts of Florida, Texas and the Gulf Coast, the National Weather Service warns.

The big picture: Nearly 78 million people were under heat alerts in the U.S. Sunday evening, as health officials report a spike in callouts and Emergency Department visits due to the extreme weather.

For the record: The U.S. has seen more than 13,000 high and over 15,000 low temperature records set or tied so far this year, according to NOAA.

As climate change influences the frequency and intensity of extreme heat waves like this one, research from the Virginia Commonwealth University and Center for American Progress estimates it costs the U.S. health care system about $1 billion a year.

El Paso, Texas, has now gone a record 38 days straight of experiencing temperatures above 100°F as of Sunday and Phoenix remains on track to become the first major U.S. city to average over 100°F for an entire month.

Zoom in: Phoenix’s record run of consecutive days with a temperature at or above 110°F continued for a 24th day Sunday, as the Sky Harbor International Airport hit 114°F.

The Arizona city also marked another record streak as its 14th consecutive day with low temperatures at or above 90°F as it recorded 92°F Sunday morning.

The Maricopa Association of Governments has made available four respite centers, 60 hydration stations and 30 cooling centers in response to oppressive heat wave.

Meanwhile, Miami’s heat index record of temperatures topping 100°F extended into a 43rd straight day Sunday and the NWS expected this to continue, as ocean temperatures surrounding South Florida and the Florida Keys reach unprecedented levels and influence conditions on land.

NOAA has increased its coral bleaching warning system to Alert Level 2 for the Keys, which means severe bleaching and significant mortality is likely due to heat stress. This occurs when the average water surface temperature is around 1.8°F above the normal maximum for eight consecutive weeks.

A NOAA spokesperson told AP surface temperatures around the Keys have averaged around 91°F — much higher than the typical mid-July average of 85°F.

Zoom out: In Las Vegas, where the concrete sidewalks seared to 143.9°F in the sun and 126.5°F in the shade this week, the city set a new daily hottest temperature record Saturday when Harry Reid International Airport hit 115°F.

Nevada State Police said Sunday they’re investigating the deaths of two women hikers found dead at Valley of Fire State Park, some 65 miles northeast of Las Vegas, the previous day in 114°F heat as the state remains under an excessive heat warning.

In Death Valley, California, where temperatures neared a world-record high last weekend, officials said a 71-year-old Los Angeles man collapsed “amid temperatures that had soared to 121°F” and later died on Tuesday afternoon. Park rangers suspect heat was a factor.

Of note: Heat is the leading annual weather-related killer in the U.S. and the true death tolls and destruction are often not immediately apparent.

The Maricopa County Department of Public Health this week confirmed 18 heat-related deaths for 2023 and are investigating a further 69, and officials told Axios Phoenix the current heat wave is still ramping up.

An official at the Phoenix-based Valleywise Health Medical Center told CNN the heat is “taking a major toll” and the hospital “has not been this busy with overflow since a few peaks in the Covid pandemic.”

There were more than 300 heat-related visits per 100,000 people across the Phoenix region Saturday alone, according to the CDC.

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