PHOENIX – Few would describe summer in Phoenix as pleasant, but this month is turning out to be particularly miserable as it teeters on the brink of becoming the hottest August in recorded history.
The city broke records for daytime highs on Monday and Tuesday, which reached 114 degrees. That's 10 degrees hotter than the average high for this time of year, and more record-breakers could come Wednesday and Thursday.
"It would be difficult not to break it at this point," Chris Kuhlman, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said. "So far, we're a degree above the hottest one."
The weather has led to an increased number of reports of heat-related illness, said Jorge Enriquez, a fire department spokesman. The department has seen a 33 percent increase, from 527 last year to 703 heat-related incidents so far this year, he said. In the past two days, 30 heat-related incidents were reported, Enriquez added.
The heat is brutal on the city's homeless population, some of whom have been found dead in the streets. Enriquez did not know how many have died this summer, but in 2005 — a year with 24 days of temperatures above 110 degrees — 80 homeless deaths were reported.
Extremely hot summers can also lead to more scorpion stings as the desert critters crawl indoors to escape the heat. The Banner Poison and Drug Center in Phoenix reported Tuesday that its phones were "ringing off the hook."
More than 70 people called within one 24-hour period ending Wednesday seeking medical advice after being stung by scorpions, the center said. Scorpion stings can cause nausea, vomiting, slurred speech and blurred vision, and are most dangerous for children. Deaths are rare.
On Wednesday, firefighters in the Phoenix suburb of Surprise found the body of a 70-year-old woman who had died from the extreme heat. The temperature inside her home was 107 degrees after her air conditioning broke Tuesday, and she had refused to stay in a hotel or a neighbor's home overnight, Fire Capt. Renee Hamblin said.
"This is a very sad story and should serve as an important reminder about just how deadly our Arizona heat can be," Hamblin said in a news release.
In the southern part of the state, near the U.S. border with Mexico, the heat is deadly for illegal immigrants trying to get into the country.
At least 110 have died crossing the Arizona desert so far this year, with the vast majority caused by the heat, said Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner at the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office in Tucson, which handles immigrant bodies from four Arizona counties. The Border Patrol was unable to say how many immigrants overall were killed by heat this summer.
Tucson broke a record set in 1985 on Tuesday, when it reached 107. Yuma, in far southwestern Arizona, hit an all-time high for the day Tuesday when it hit 115 degrees.
Even at night or early in the day, the heat has not dissipated. On Wednesday morning, crews rescued a 44-year-old hiker off Phoenix's South Mountain after she got dizzy and nauseated, classic signs of heat stroke, Enriquez said. A helicopter on Sunday rescued a 59-year-old woman from another mountain after she experienced similar symptoms, Enriquez said.
Both women are experienced hikers, he said.
"They're underestimating the heat," Enriquez said. "If they're avid hikers and they're still trying to go for their morning hike — it's 95 degrees at 8 o'clock in the morning now, and normally in August it's usually 85 or 80."
The average between the daytime highs and nighttime lows in the area for August was 97.1 degrees as of Wednesday, putting Phoenix on pace to beat the overall monthly record of 96.2 degrees, set in 2007.
Parts of the state were unlikely to get a reprieve soon. The excessive heat is being caused by a relatively inactive monsoon and a large upper-level pressure system hovering over the area, Kuhlman said.
An excessive heat warning was in effect through Friday afternoon in one-fourth of Arizona and parts of southern California and Nevada, including Las Vegas.
The earliest the area is expected to cool would be next week, when daytime highs will be around 105 degrees, said Kuhlman.
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