Two people have died so far this year in Arizona because of hot weather and authorities are investigating 12 additional deaths in recent weeks to determine if hot weather was the cause or a factor, officials said.
Public health officials in Maricopa County that includes Phoenix said one of the deaths caused by heat happened in March and the other one occurred in April. Both victims were women who died outdoors. One was in her 20s while the other was in her 70s.
"I wish this was unusual," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, a medical director at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health. "Last year was the highest number of heat-related deaths that we've had ever, since we started counting the numbers."
The county last year recorded no heat-associated deaths in March or April, though there were three confirmed deaths in May. There were 130 confirmed heat-associated deaths last year.
Twelve more deaths, most over the past three weeks, are also being investigated to determine if they were due to hot weather though heat could be ruled out in some of them, Sunenshine said in a story published by The Arizona Republic.
Temperatures in Phoenix on Monday and Tuesday were above 105 degrees and a heat warning from the National Weather Service ended Wednesday.
Metro Phoenix can expect to see "a lengthening of the hot season" based on projections, said Sharon Harlan, a senior sustainability fellow with Arizona State University's School of Sustainability.
Harlan has studied environmental inequalities for more than a decade and was one of the authors of a study published last year examining the health impacts of heat.
High temperatures can kill inexperienced hikers, those without working air conditioners, and homeless people who live outdoors, she said. Homeless people accounted for 33 percent of all heat-associated deaths tracked by the county last year.
Sunenshine said it's important for people to drink enough water, take breaks in the shade, avoid outdoor activity and check on elderly neighbors, to make sure their air conditioners are functioning properly.