From an opinion piece by Timothy Egan in The New York Times:
What if the climate models that predict the American West heating up faster than any other part of the country prove all too accurate?
If you live here, you know what it means when the sun becomes an enemy. On Thursday, it was 110 degrees. Yesterday, same thing. Too hot to leave a dog or a child in a car without risking their lives. Your skin stings. You feel your brain swelling while waiting for the air-conditioning when you get in the oven of a parked car.
About 800 people will be hospitalized, on average, for heat-related maladies in the coming months, and some will die, mostly the very young and the very old.
As heat waves go, this week’s mercury-topper is nothing special. It’s been 121 degrees — the all-time high. But if you look at the trends and the long-term predictions by the United Nations climate panel, you wonder how our signature New City will adapt. The average temperature of Phoenix has risen five degrees since the 1960s, according to the National Weather Service. Five of the warmest years ever recorded have occurred since 2000.
A few years ago, The Arizona Republic predicted that average temperatures in Phoenix might rise by 15 to 20 degrees over a generation, due to something called the urban heat island effect. The more parking lots and Dilbert-filled buildings are slapped over the desert floor, the more heat stays trapped in the valley. On top of that is climate change.
“All of the models say in the next 50 years this place is really going to heat up,” said Robert Balling, a climatologist at Arizona State University.
Outside the city, the forests of Arizona are dying, stressed by drought and rising temperatures. A fire that burned an area the size of metro Phoenix five years ago is seen as a terrifying precursor.
What scientists have found is that there’s a threshold at which the forest ecosystem collapses. They’ve looked at droughts going back to the time of the Hohokam, who built canals here, and cannot find anything like the present crash.
A Flickr image from Phillip Nesmith shows us what Arizona can be like…
UPDATE: Federal government warns much of the Western U.S. of dangers of "excessive heat." Maybe this should be made permanent for Phoenix?