As temperatures in the East Valley were predicted to hit over 100 the early part of next week, some climate researchers predict Arizona could be unlivable by 2050.
Not all climate forecasts are so dire, but experts say Arizonans need to prepare for extreme heat and related events. The problem is not centuries in the future, they say; it’s immediate.
Last year was the warmest on record in Arizona, and 2018 is on pace to eclipse that. Experts predict temperatures will rise an additional 10 degrees over the next seven decades. With more heat, researchers say, comes more air pollution and allergens.
The Colorado River reservoirs on which Arizonans depend are expected to dwindle due to rising temperatures and an expanding population, and microorganisms that flourish in extreme heat put those water supplies at risk.
If these predictions, published by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and a variety of sources, come true, the health of Arizonans could quickly be at risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Climate and Health Program website.
“Heat places a lot of stress on the body, and humans and animals need to get some daily relief from the heat,” said Nancy Selover, the state climatologist for Arizona. “If there is no air-conditioned place they can go for relief, people with underlying health problems may be at risk. This is a problem for people with heart conditions, respiratory conditions and the elderly.”
Also of concern are extreme weather events, such as dust storms and heat waves, which are expected to become more common due to climate change and other factors. These events also pose higher risks to human health, according to the CDC.
The hottest day of 2017 (June 20) reached 119 degrees – 3 degrees lower than the record set in June 1990.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center estimates that 2018 will be a record-breaking year. The first month of 2018 was the third warmest January recorded for Phoenix.
“We are seeing warmer temperatures statewide over the past 30 or so years, both in the daytime temperatures and the nighttime temperatures,” Selover said.
Urban areas are seeing larger temperature increases than rural areas, Selover said. Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are among the factors suspected of contributing to increasing temperatures.
“The natural environment of the desert and the irrigated agriculture both cool very quickly at night, so they do not exhibit the warmer nights that the city does,” Selover said. “That is a climate change that is totally attributable to our activities.”
Phoenix is ranked the second fastest-warming city in the United States, according to the World Atlas website. Prescott was fifth and Tucson seventh on the list. Arizona’s 7 million residents already struggle with higher temperatures and hotter seasons, and Selover said it will only get worse for their health.
Preparing now for these events will help “ensure that our communities are adequately prepared for health challenges,” according to the CDC’s Climate and Health Program website.
The state’s average temperature is projected to increase by more than 10 degrees by 2090, according to States at Risk, a project through Climate Central, a nonprofit news organization aimed at showing Americans the impacts of climate change.
This means that heat waves could become more common, which will particularly affect Arizonans unable to shelter from the heat. This includes more than 200,000 people living in poverty, ages 5 and younger or 65 and older, who are especially vulnerable to the heat, according to States at Risk. This number is likely to increase if the warming trend continues.
As Arizona gets hotter, demand for water will increase, thus reducing the supply.
“We are currently in the 23rd year of a drought,” Selover said. “We have had 37-year dry periods in the past without any warning that might be related to greenhouse gases, so we can’t automatically blame the drought on climate change, but the two are likely related.”
Lake Mead, one of Arizona’s main water sources, is at its lowest level since 2011, according to the USBR.
From 1980 to 2015, carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in Arizona have increased by 38.2 million metric tons. As this number continues to rise, breathing difficulties and respiratory diseases will increase, according to the EPA.
Air pollution has been associated with respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, as it is a carcinogen to humans. Allergens also could increase as temperatures rise.
“As air pollutants build up and higher temperatures create more pollen in the air, stronger airborne allergens come with it,” according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. This may affect those who have severe allergies already, as well as increase the length of allergy seasons, according to Lung.org.
Temperatures may continue to rise in Arizona, so planning ahead and taking care of yourself when outside can help keep you safe and prevent heat-related incidents. Check the Air Quality Index before going outside each day to avoid situations where allergies could be most harmful.