Arizona’s Maricopa County shatters record for heat deaths

Health officials in Arizona’s Maricopa County reported nearly 500 heat-related deaths this summer, making 2023 the region’s deadliest year on record when it comes to extreme temperatures.

In its latest weekly heat report, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health said there have been 469 confirmed heat-associated deaths so far this year, with an additional 153 deaths still under investigation.

That number surpasses the previous record set last year of 425 heat-associated deaths in the county.

Across the United States, extreme heat causes more deaths each year than any other weather event, including floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, according to the National Weather Service. That threat is expected to worsen in the years ahead, as studies have shown that climate change is increasing the frequency, severity and persistence of extreme heat events.

This summer, Arizona and other parts of the Southwest sweltered through weeks of temperatures well into the triple digits.

In Phoenix, which is in Maricopa County, residents endured 31 back-to-back days of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher in July, a milestone that shattered the city’s previous heat record of 18 consecutive days above 110 degrees set in 1974.

Also in July, Maricopa County saw huge spikes in heat-associated deaths as daily high temperatures neared 120. In one week alone, from July 16 to July 22, there were around 150 heat-related deaths in the county, according to the report.

A man drinks water handed out by the Salvation Army in Tucson, Ariz., on July 26. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP via Getty Images

More than 60% of the confirmed heat-associated deaths in Maricopa County were in adults over the age of 50. People 50 to 64 were most affected by extreme heat, accounting for 29% of heat-related deaths in the county.

Health officials said individuals experiencing homelessness accounted for 44% of heat-associated deaths, while 45% of deaths were among the housed population. In 11% of the deaths, the person’s living situation was not known, according to the report.

White, non-Hispanic individuals made up 58% of the heat-associated deaths in the county, with Hispanic or Latino making up 23% of deaths and Black or African American individuals making up 13% of heat-related deaths in Maricopa County.

Image: A Phoenix resident rests under shade while seeking protection from the sun and heat at the Human Services Campus during a record heat wave in Phoenix on July 18, 2023.
A Phoenix resident rests under shade while seeking protection from the sun and heat at the Human Services Campus during a record heat wave in Phoenix on July 18.Patrick T. Fallon / AFP – Getty Images

Health officials said 122 deaths occurred indoors, of which 92 were discovered with nonfunctioning air conditioning and 11 with no air conditioning present at all.

Even in nonfatal cases, heat still posed a major public health threat in Arizona. Hospital visits in Maricopa County spiked throughout July and early August, as temperatures soared well over 100 degrees, according to the report.

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