Heat-Related Deaths Nearly Double in Phoenix Amid Record-Breaking Temperatures

Phoenix heat-related deaths

Phoenix, Arizona, the hottest major city in the United States, is facing a severe public health crisis as heat-related deaths have nearly doubled compared to the same period last year. Following the city’s hottest June on record, the Maricopa County medical examiner reported 175 possible heat deaths as of June 29, marking an 84% increase over last year’s numbers.

Currently, the total includes 162 suspected deaths under investigation and 13 confirmed heat deaths. This alarming rise in fatalities underscores the growing threat posed by extreme heat, driven by climate change and exacerbated by the urban heat island effect.

In 2023, Phoenix endured a month of consecutive days over 110°F (43°C) and recorded a staggering 645 heat deaths in Maricopa County. The unprecedented heatwave in July 2023 followed a cooler-than-normal June, contributing to the early-season surge in heat-related deaths this year. The average temperature in June 2024 set a new record, largely due to multiple warm nighttime lows that trapped daytime heat and prevented cooling.

On June 27, Phoenix recorded its warmest overnight June low at 95°F, breaking the previous record of 93°F set in 1990. The inability of the body to recover at night due to high temperatures is particularly concerning for public health experts.

The National Weather Service (NWS) has forecast dangerously hot temperatures for Maricopa County and the entire southwestern United States, with a heat dome expected to persist until mid-next week. Phoenix could see temperatures exceeding 115°F, with potential records being broken in California and Las Vegas.

Heat-related deaths are on the rise across the US and globally, often underreported due to inadequate tracking by medical examiners. This year, heat has claimed lives in Idaho and Kansas City, further highlighting the widespread impact of extreme temperatures.

In Maricopa County, 46% of the confirmed heat deaths involved Black, Latino, or Indigenous American individuals, with 69% of the victims being men. Notably, some deaths occurred indoors where air conditioning was either turned off or malfunctioning.

Phoenix’s efforts to tackle the heat crisis include a variety of programs aimed at reducing the urban heat island effect. However, the city’s recent eviction of a large homeless encampment raises concerns, as a significant proportion of heat deaths involve unsheltered individuals. In response to a US Supreme Court ruling, Phoenix has implemented a tent ban in public spaces, potentially exacerbating the plight of the homeless.

As the region grapples with rising temperatures due to global heating, the urgent need for comprehensive climate action and robust public health strategies has never been clearer. Phoenix’s escalating heat-related deaths serve as a stark warning of the deadly consequences of unchecked climate change and urban development.