Woman in the desert

Whether you’re in Phoenix for a few days in June, July or August or you’re about to spend your first entire summer in the Valley, you’re going to experience our infamous heat. The average temperature in July, for example, hovers around 106 degrees, but June is statistically our hottest month. Individual days – or clusters of them – reach 110 degrees or higher.

However, rumors of 130-degree days are mythical. The highest official temperature ever reached in Phoenix of 122 degrees was achieved over a quarter century ago – on June 26, 1990, at 2:47 p.m. local time. Before that, the long-standing record had been 118 degrees. This new high of 122 was considered so extreme that no one knew what to expect, so officials closed Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport until the mercury had fallen considerably. The record has never been exceeded or even tied in the years since.

Nevertheless, you will meet people all over town who will swear to you that they experienced temperatures in the high 120s or even over 130. This seems best attributed to wildly over-reacting bank temperature signs of the not-so-distant past. Most very extreme heat has been recorded in late June during those final hot, dry days before the legendary monsoon breaks the pattern, generally right around July 4.

As much as Valley residents seem to treat the heat as no big deal or at worst a mild annoyance, it’s actually a serious health risk. If you underestimate the desert heat and don’t take precautions, you could be one of the 2,000 people who wind up in emergency rooms every summer. In the worst case, you could be one of the 100 who tragically dies.

We definitely don’t want that, so read on for 7 things to know that will help you get through our summer safely. And if you take away nothing else, remember that in an Arizona summer, consider a bottle of water to be your most important fashion accessory.

1. Know the signs of heat illness

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the path to a life-threatening heat stroke follows a fairly predictable series of steps, with several warning signs along the way.

Thirsty: Being thirsty signals that you’re already starting to get dehydrated. As soon as you get thirsty, make it a point to drink some water and get out of the heat.

Heat cramps: Cramping, pain and spams in your abdominal muscles and legs signals that you losing too much water and salt. Drink water and get inside.

Heat exhaustion: Signs you are entering dangerous territory include “cool, moist, pale, flushed or red skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion.” However, your body temperature will be near normal. With these symptoms, get inside right away and drink half a glass of cool water every 15 minutes until you improve.

Heat stroke: During heat stroke, your temperature spikes and can damage your brain and internal organs. Other signs include “hot, red and dry skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing.” At this point, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Learn more about heat illness, the signs to watch for and how to treat it at the Arizona Department of Health Services website.

Some ways to avoid heat illness include staying indoors; wearing lightweight clothes in light colors; taking regular breaks; and, naturally, drinking a lot of water. We’re sure you’ve heard that advice before, and you might even try following it. However, when it comes to drinking water, you might not realize that you need to …

2. Drink more water than you think

Planning to hydrate is good. However, if you’re outside in the Phoenix sun, you’re going to need a lot more than 8 cups of water for the day.

In addition to temperatures in excess of 100 degrees, the summer humidity in Phoenix ranges between a balmy 10 percent and a throat-parching 2 percent. And that’s not hyperbole; you can drink an entire glass of water and your mouth will feel parched within a minute. Even worse, your sweat often evaporates almost as soon as it leaves your body, so you might not realize how much water you’re losing.

If you’re going outside for any reason, take a bottle of water; for a hike take several bottles of water or a drinking system such as a Camelbak. Many people have died after heading into the wilderness in 110 degree heat with insufficient fluids. That’s why we recommend you stay indoors or hang out by one of the many pools in the Valley until October.

If you just have to go outside, you might be tempted to wait until night when it’s cooler. It’s a logical plan, but you should know …

3. Phoenix doesn’t get cool

If you’re hoping that Phoenix becomes bearable when the sun goes down, we’re sorry to disappoint you. Nighttime low temperatures might get below 80 degrees, but only around 4 a.m. In fact, early morning is a much better time for outdoor activities than late evening.

Up through midnight, temperatures will still be in the 90s. In the height of summer, overnight temperature can often stay ABOVE 90 degrees even after dark, and the humidity doesn’t increase at all. On the plus side, you won’t get sunburned.

As during the day, take along more water than you think you’ll need and don’t overexert yourself. For those craving a taste of the outdoors during summer, leave the Valley entirely and go somewhere cooler, such as the Lava River Cave up near Flagstaff, which stays a steady 42 degrees inside.

4. Car interiors can easily reach 150+ degrees

During summer, the interior temperature of a sitting car can skyrocket. According to the Phoenix Fire Department, that interior temperature can reach 138 degrees in as little as five minutes and 150 degrees or higher in 15 minutes – even with the windows cracked.

While you can exit a hot car when it becomes uncomfortable, children and pets don’t have the luxury of escaping. Under no circumstances leave your children or pets in the car, even “for a minute.”

Seriously, just don’t do it.

In the best case you’ll end up with a broken window courtesy of a Good Samaritan, and have a talk with the police. And yes, as of May 2017 and House Bill 2494, breaking the window of a car is legal as long as you contact law enforcement first, you genuinely believe the life of a child or pet is in danger, and you stick around to talk to the police afterwards.

On a less life-threatening note, you also don’t want to leave food or electronics in the car. You really don’t want to clean a liquefied banana out of the upholstery (trust us), and high heat can ruin a smartphone or laptop battery.

In addition, when entering the car, be careful not to touch any metal in the car and, if you have black leather seats, definitely cover them with a towel. Invest in a windshield cover and a fabric steering wheel cover as well, or you’ll be trying the old “socks on the hands” trick.

5. Cars don’t like heat

In the Valley of the Sun, we never deal with cars that won’t start because its too cold (one of the many reason people move here). However, heat and low humidity can cause different problems, from the obvious overheating to damaged rubber hoses and dead batteries.

That last one usually comes as a surprise, but as with smartphone and laptop batteries, the summer heat kills car batteries faster than you’d expect. If you get two years out of a car battery you’re doing well here. And at the point you notice the battery dying, you might have a few short days to get it replaced. It pays to get your car checked regularly.

If your car breaks down near a business where you can take shelter, that’s just a minor inconvenience. However, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you could be waiting hours in a hot car for a tow truck or an Arizona DPS Freeway Service vehicle. That’s why you should always carry fresh water in the car. For longer trips around the state, make it at least a gallon.

6. Avoid the bees

During a summer day in Phoenix, you won’t see a lot of animals or insects out and about. Most come out at night, so watch where you step when you’re on that night walk.

That being said, Phoenix bee season and summer go hand in hand. Each summer, bees kill at least a few people and dogs around the Valley. Learn 9 things that will help you survive a bee attack.

7. Watch out for flash floods

With Phoenix only receiving 12.5 inches of rainfall a year, worrying about flash floods seems like a joke. However, during our “second summer,” Phoenix experiences monsoons. That means sudden downpours lasting anywhere from five minutes to a few hours. It’s important to understand that the ground in the Phoenix area doesn’t absorb water. That’s why it “sounds funny” when it rains, if you aren’t from around here.

At the edges of the cities and in the desert, that water makes its way to washes, which are the dry riverbeds you’ll see everywhere. Those can fill up quickly and, if you happen to be in one, you’ll be dealing with a raging river before you know it. This can even happen far away from where the rain actually falls, so if it’s raining anywhere in the Valley, stick to higher ground.

In the city, rain water often doesn’t even have the luxury of washes. With nowhere to go, it tends to form lakes in parking lots and roadways. Avoid standing water because it might be much deeper than you think. Most roadways that flood have warnings not to enter certain parts when there’s water present, so definitely pay attention to those signs, but know there may be unmarked dangers.

Water on the roads presents a few more dangers. Phoenix drivers only have to deal with rain a few weeks a year, so our rain-driving skills are, frankly, terrible. Within minutes of rainfall, you can expect to see a number of accidents (we once passed 11 within three miles), so definitely slow down and drive more defensively. Our freeways are treated to absorb sound, which is very handy. That also makes them hard to navigate when they are wet, so be very careful driving on these, as well.

With shorter Phoenix storms, the sun often comes out and transforms roadways into mirrors, reflecting bright light into your eyes and making it impossible to see the lane lines. Keep your sunglasses handy at all times, and drive carefully.

Wrap-up

As long as you keep the above dangers and our advice in mind, you should have no trouble surviving a Phoenix summer. Even better, you can enjoy it. Just keep an eye on Phoenix.org for the latest attractions, events, restaurants and more that help you beat the summer heat.

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– Justin Ferris, Phoenix.org

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