Despite Record-Breaking Temps, Phoenix Heat Tsar Says Hottest City in the US Has a Livable Future

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“We can get to zero deaths.”

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. 

The heat expert leading efforts to make America’s hottest city more bearable insists that Phoenix could eventually eradicate heat deaths—despite July’s record-breaking death toll.

As many as 300 people may have died during the hottest ever month on record as the temperature in Phoenix topped 110F (43C) for 31 consecutive days. Heat deaths in the city have more than quadrupled in the past decade, and 2023 is on track to be another record-breaking year as Phoenix braces itself for the next spell of 110F-plus temperatures forecast to hit by Monday. Despite this, David Hondula, director of the city’s heat response and mitigation team, insists that every heat death can be prevented.

“We can get to zero deaths with the right resources…obviously no city yet anywhere in the world has yet demonstrated what the right mix of resources looks like for zero heat-related deaths, but [we’re] at the forefront of pursuing them,” Hondula said.

Phoenix, the capital of Arizona and America’s fifth-largest city with 1.6 million people, is accustomed to a hot desert climate, but temperatures are rising due to global heating—made worse by decades of unchecked urban development that created a sprawling heat island.

Hondula was appointed as the Phoenix heat tsar in the fall of 2021 to coordinate the city’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to the extreme heat that is killing and injuring more and more people every year.

July was the hottest ever month globally; Phoenix, meanwhile, had the hottest month ever recorded in a US city. Temperatures hit 115F on 17 days, breaking the previous record of six days set in 2020, according to the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

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