Arizona heat is an unfortunate fact of life that makes life very miserable during the hot months. Between May and September, it is very uncomfortably hot in Arizona. Arizona is obviously a desert, but why? Why is it so hot here? There is a scientific reason why Arizona gets so hot.
The Laguna Mountains in California is the first barrier of cool air coming from the Pacific Ocean. Phoenix is situated in a valley, surrounded by mountains. Because of the updraft of heat, clouds and rain rarely make it into the valley. There are times when you can literally see a ring of clouds around the entire valley because the high pressure of the hot air is keeping the clouds at bay.
Arizona is located on the lee sides (AKA down-wind) of the mountains. When rain reaches the mountains, the precipitation rises up the mountains, cools and condenses into clouds. The rain clouds bring precipitation to the up-wind side of the mountains. When the air descends on the down-side of the mountains, it compacts and heats up. By the time the clouds reach the down-wind side of the mountains, the air is wrung drier than it was on the up-wind side of the mountains.
Because of the hot weather, there is almost constantly high pressure over Arizona. Under high pressure, the air sinks and clouds cannot form. Because of the lack of rain in Arizona, the humidity is very low. Dry air heats up fast because there is no humidity in the air to absorb the heat.
Urban Heat Islands
Arizona was already a hot desert before people settled here, but the development has made urban areas in Arizona even hotter. Urban Heat Islands (UHI) are areas that experience consistently higher temperatures than surrounding areas because of a greater retention of heat by buildings, concrete and asphalt. Phoenix is a prime example of an UHI.
According to this article (PDF), the Phoenix UHI is “jeopardizing the sustainability of Phoenix”. The article states in 2010, there were seven days with a recorded low temperature over ninety degrees at Sky Harbor Airport; on these same days the low temperature in Queen Creek, in the southeast Valley periphery, was consistently ten degrees lower. Basically, the urban areas are normally ten degrees hotter than the outlying areas. Ten degrees might not sound like a lot, but when you’re talking about 100 degrees vs 110 degrees it’s a hefty difference.
I like to think of the Urban Heat Island effect as a heat bubble. It’s a dome of self-contained hot air that doesn’t let much actual weather in. When weather does make it through the heat bubble, it’s usually very severe and causes dust storms and poor air quality. At the time of this article, I cannot recall the last time I saw rain but I’ve seen plenty of dust storms.
What Arizona Hot Weather Is Like
It’s difficult to explain what the Arizona heat feels like. Unless you’ve felt it, you won’t truly understand it. The uncomfortable heat starts around late-April to early-May and ends late-September to early-October. You can count on half the year feeling miserable.
For me, I start getting uncomfortable and irritable at 105 degrees. Above 105, it doesn’t matter what the number is because it’s just HOT. So, let’s describe a hot summer day in Arizona!
It’s 6:00 AM, and the alarm clock is buzzing. The sun is already up because it rises at 5:00 AM in the summer. I wake up and start a pot of coffee. I really hate to drink hot fluids in the summer, but I like coffee. The trick is to not go outside until I’ve had my cup of coffee, because once the heat hits my skin, I don’t want anything hot.
I walk outside to check the mail or get the paper, and it’s already uncomfortable. The temperature is in the upper-80’s to lower-90’s, and it’s not even 7:00 AM yet. I can feel the heat radiating from the concrete and asphalt beneath my feet and the sun is beating down on me from above. I run back inside to the air conditioning, which runs all the time. I have two air conditioning units and pay approximately $400-$500 per month on my electricity bill. My thermostats are set to 79-81, and NEVER goes below 79. I just can’t afford that.
I take a shower, but I can’t get any cold water. I turn on the cold tap, but only hot water comes out. I realize it’s going to be another one of those days where everything will be hot and uncomfortable, and it puts me in a bad mood. The shower is too damned hot and I have no way to cool it off.
I drive to work and park in the parking lot, where it will sit in the hot sun all day. I spend all day inside at work in the air conditioning. When it’s time to go home, the sun is still shining bright and it has heated up outside. As I walk out, the heat from above is even more intense and burns my skin. Not the sun burn type of burning, but the burning sensation you get when you’re standing too close to an open flame. As I walk by buildings and structures, I feel the heat emanating from it as if I were walking by a heater.
As I touch the door handle to open my car door, the handle is too hot to touch. I have to use a towel to open the door. As my car door swings open, a gush of hot 130 degree air hits my face. I’m reminded of the sensation of opening a hot oven. I take a deep breath, hold it and enter the vehicle. I quickly start it up, crank up the air conditioning and roll down my windows to blow out the hot air. I have to sit there for a couple of minutes while the temperature inside my car reaches the ambient outside temperature of 110 degrees.
Finally, it cools down to 110 degrees and I’m able to roll up the windows and I can start to feel trickles of air conditioned air coming out of the vents. I reach up to touch the steering wheel, but it burns my hand. I have to drive with a towel on my steering wheel while the air conditioning struggles to cool it down.
On the drive home, the sun is lower in the sky and it’s right in my face. There are no canopies of trees to drive under to shield the sun away. The sun is UP and SHINING until it goes below the horizon or a mountain. Although the air conditioning is cranked, I can feel the heat from my windows. Even my tinted windows aren’t blocking the 110+ degree heat outside.
Once I get home, I decide to go for a swim in the pool. I have to wear flip-flops out to the pool because the concrete is too hot to walk on barefoot. Wearing my open-toed shoes, I can feel the heat on my toes and it literally burns.
I quickly discover the pool is hot, too. There is no refreshment because I feel like I just jumped into a giant bowl of soup. Well, this sure sucks. Maybe a cold shower will cool me down. Yes, it would cool me down but there are no cold showers in the summer. I find relief by getting wet hand towels and putting them in the refrigerator and wiping off with them. The refrigerator is the only thing that is cold. With the house air conditioner set at 79, it’s still not refreshing because heat emanates from the walls and windows. The only true cool air is directly under the vent.
It is like this day-in and day-out for six months out of the year in Arizona. I’m always angry and irritated because of the heat. You might hear people say “it’s a dry heat”. Yes, it’s a dry heat but the dry air is what makes it so hot in Arizona. I would welcome humidity because the moisture is sucked from my body from living in the desert.
Arizona heat is very unpleasant and it will suck the life out of you. The only escape from the summer heat is leaving Arizona.
No Arizona provides information about Arizona and reveals the truth about life in the desert based on facts and observations.
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