The official start to the 2021 monsoon is coming in hot, with excessive heat warnings in effect across Pima County and much of Southern Arizona through the weekend.
On Tuesday, the first official day of the monsoon, Tucson shattered a 125-year record when it hit 115 degrees. The mark was two degrees shy of the city’s all-time record of 117 degrees, set June 26, 1990.
That record still stands, but more daily records locally and across the Southwest may continue to fall as the high pressure system parked over much of the region continues to trap a lot of heat.
According to the National Weather Service, afternoon temperatures are expected to range from 109 to 116 in and around the Tucson metro area for the next few days.
And though high temperatures during the summer are nothing new, it’s these historic highs in the context of an already intense and expansive drought across the Western U.S. that are sounding alarms.
“June is typically our hottest month of the year, but because we haven’t gotten any moisture in yet, we’re breaking records that are normally very high,” said Carl Cerniglia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Tucson.
“The extreme heat and the very dry air dries out the ground and the vegetation even further, so it makes the drought that much worse,” he said.
In addition to deepening the drought, the extreme heat is also adding to the significant wildfire danger across the region, especially here in Arizona.
“We’ve seen an increase in fire behavior in that it’s just much more intense, and that’s because it brings about more extreme drying. We’ve actually had quite a few wildfires start up, especially in the mountainous areas where we’ve had a little bit of lightning,” Cerniglia said.
With the summer temperature outlook from the NWS showing a high probability for above normal temperatures across the Southwest, it’s likely this heat wave is just marking the start of a long, hot, summer.
But there is some relief on the horizon.
Temperatures are expected to drop roughly four degrees Monday, bringing the heat slightly closer to normal levels, said Cerniglia, and a chance of precipitation toward the end of the week might bring the first signs of some much-needed monsoon moisture.
With the extreme heat also comes an increased risk for heat-related illnesses, particularly for individuals who are working or spending time outside.
The Arizona Department of Health Services encourages anyone participating in outdoor activities to stay hydrated, wear light and loose-fitting clothing, and take frequent breaks in a cool, air-conditioned environment.
ADHS also recommends limiting strenuous activities to the coolest part of the day, usually between 4 and 7 a.m., if possible.
But, Cerniglia warns, the longer the heat wave lingers, the bigger the impact the heat could have on an individual.
“It’s not just being outside one day and being OK. It’s the day after day, for people who are exposed to the heat, for folks who don’t have air conditioning or can’t be in air conditioning enough. The effects on the body are cumulative, and a lot of people don’t realize that,” he said.
For help beating the heat, the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness has compiled a list of cooling stations that are free and open to the public, offering water and some relief from the sun.
Additional cooling centers throughout the City of Tucson will open any day when temperatures are expected to exceed 110 degrees.