After enduring a scorching summer marked by extreme heat, Phoenix, Arizona, has now etched its name in the record books, this time for an unprecedented dry spell. The National Weather Service has confirmed that the monsoon season in the arid Southwest yielded a mere 0.15 inches (.38 centimeters) of rainfall from June 15 to September 30, marking the driest period since record-keeping began in 1895. This surpasses the previous record of 0.35 inches set in 1924.
Typically spanning about three months, the monsoon season kicks off in June, with rising temperatures heating the land and shifting winds carrying moisture from the eastern Pacific and Gulf of California to the Southwest through summer thunderstorms.
Phoenix, accustomed to an average rainfall of 2.43 inches (6.1 centimeters) during a monsoon season, faced an astonishingly arid stretch. Arizona itself ranks as the second driest state in the U.S., trailing only Nevada, which sees less than 10 inches (25.4 centimeters) of rain annually compared to the national average of about 30 inches (76 centimeters).
Nevada has grappled with drought conditions since 2020, while New Mexico, the fourth driest state with an average annual rainfall of about 14 inches (35.5 centimeters), has also felt the impact of the prolonged drought.
Phoenix experienced an exceptionally hot summer, with July being the hottest on record and August as the second-hottest. The daily average temperature in June, July, and August reached 97°F (36.1°C), surpassing the previous record of 96.7°F (35.9°C) set three years ago.
July brought about a record-setting 31-day streak of highs at or above 110°F (43.3°C), posing health risks for residents unable to adequately cool off in the relentless heat. The aftermath of the scorching summer is evident in the rising heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county. As of September 23, there were 295 confirmed heat-associated deaths, with an additional 298 still under investigation for causes related to the heat.
These escalating numbers are positioning Maricopa County to set an annual record for heat-associated deaths, an alarming consequence of the blistering summer, particularly in Phoenix. The city stands out as no other major metropolitan area in the U.S. has reported such high figures for heat-related deaths or invested as much effort in tracking and studying them.
As scientists foresee more frequent, intense, and enduring heatwaves due to climate change, the trend of heat-associated deaths is anticipated to persist. The challenging climate conditions in Phoenix underscore the urgent need for comprehensive strategies to mitigate the impact of extreme heat and its dire consequences.