It's a dry heat: Phoenix gears up for brutal summer season

It's a dry heat: PHX gears up for brutal summer
Posted at 10:17 AM, Jun 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-01 20:20:36-04

It may be a dry heat, but it can kill you.

Phoenix officials on Friday launched a new safety campaign for Arizona's brutal summer season, calling on people in one of the hottest major U.S. cities to protect themselves from extreme heat that can be deadly as temperatures regularly creep into triple digits. 

The city has mailed out fliers with tips for keeping safe in the broiling desert heat that will begin arriving Friday at some 400,000 homes, said Tammy Vo, city marketing and communications manager.

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Phoenix's heat is like "an invisible storm, a silent storm that creeps up on you and lasts for 110 days with temperatures of 100 degrees and higher," said Mark Hartman, the city's chief sustainability officer.

There were 155 heat-associated deaths reported in Phoenix's Maricopa County in 2017, the highest annual number ever recorded, as the city experienced the warmest year on record.  

Phoenix also has undertaken longer-term initiatives such as planting 3,000 new shade trees this year through its HeatReady program as it vies with 34 other cities around the U.S. for a $5 million prize for urban innovation.

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Vo said HeatReady is designed to help Phoenix residents stay safe from extreme heat in the same way other areas prepare for severe weather such as hurricanes, tornadoes or snowstorms.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 219 people died from heat-associated causes around the state last year, with nearly 1,300 heat-caused deaths statewide during the decade from 2005 to 2015.

The department said that last year more than 2,874 people visited hospital emergency rooms for heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke, mostly in the southern and western parts of the state spread across the Sonoran Desert.

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Phoenix's HeatReady program is a finalist in Bloomberg Philanthropies' 2018 Mayors Challenge, which gave the city $100,000 to more fully develop its ideas this year for preparing its residents for high temperatures.

It's competing with 34 other cities around the United States including Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit and South Bend, Indiana, for a $5 million prize to further develop plans to tackle tough problems ranging from homelessness and school absenteeism to climate change and affordable public transportation.

Phoenix's initiatives this summer include past efforts such as opening nearly four dozen cooling stations where people around the city of 5 million can get free bottles of water and cool off inside an air-conditioned space, usually a public library or senior center.

The city has also undertaken longer-term actions such as planting 3,000 new trees this year to create shade and cool off residential areas.

The National Weather Service in Arizona earlier this week teamed up with the Arizona Department of Health Services and other government agencies to launch their own heat awareness campaign.

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"Periods of excessive and/or extreme heat are no joking matter," the weather service said on its website. "Heat kills more people than tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes and lightning combined."

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