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When the Heat Can’t Be Beat

PHOENIX – Anne Morollo thought she could escape brutal summers three years ago by moving from Florida to the foothills of the Rockies. The stinging air and orange sky of her first bushfire shattered that illusion.

She moved south five months ago and now all she does is stay home, avoid the front seat of her sweltering Volvo and sink into air-conditioned isolation. “I always thought I could make my way here,” said Ms. Morollo, 57, who now lives in Savannah, Georgia. “But what can I do?”

Call it surrender to summer.

While much of the country is sweating through a series of record-breaking heat waves — it’s the hottest summer on record in some Texas cities, parts of Oklahoma haven’t been this hot since the Dust Bowl, and places in the normally temperate Pacific Northwest are seeing triple-digit temperatures. – people are beginning to redesign their lives simply to survive the ultramarathon of misery that now defines the white-hot American summer.

Some become nocturnal, jogging or walking the dog before the sun rises or long after it sets. Some keep their curtains closed all day, or head out into the steamy world with a frozen water bottle. A New Jersey florist strings silk flowers in outdoor arrangements, as natural lilies wither in the sun. People on limited incomes are cutting back on other necessities so they can run the air conditioning.

This summer feels particularly unbearable, as every escape from the heat comes with a snag.

Want a road trip to the mountains? Average gas prices may be falling, but they’re still about $4.30 a gallon, a dollar higher than last summer. Want to fly somewhere cooler? Europe has just wilted under a record heat wave, Asia is no better and air travel is a gritty nightmare of canceled flights and delays.

Officials across the country are struggling to protect people. On Orange County beaches, California Junior Life Guards now take mandatory hourly breaks to rehydrate and check their sunscreen. Sacramento is converting a former science museum into a “respite centerfor the homeless. New York City kept public pools open longer during a recent heat wave, and community gardens added additional water shifts to volunteer agendas.

Daniel Hyde, 24, a finance officer in New York, scrapped his plans to play basketball in a park when record-breaking temperatures swept the Northeast last week, and instead went to the fan-cooled basement of a community center.

“The effect of the sun shining on you outside is extremely dangerous,” he said. ‘It’s better here. They have bottled water.”

Week after week this summer, the heat has broken records from Boston to Texas to Alaska. Seattle and Portland, Oregon — not exactly hot spots — both set new daily temperature records on Tuesday, with 102 in Portland and 94 in Seattle. Portland was set to hit the top 100 again on Thursday.

Newark reached 100 degrees or higher for five consecutive days last week, for the first time in history, as heat peaked in the eastern United States on Sunday. Cities from Joplin, Mo., to Reading, Pa., to Manchester, NH, set records.

And this month is probably the hottest july ever — after the hottest May and June — in Austin, Texas, which has seen 47 triple-digit days so far this year.

“I’ll be in after 10 p.m.,” says Paolo Pinto, 70, an Austin resident. “I have curtains, shades and fans. I don’t get out until around 7pm, I’m getting red, I’m getting exhausted.”

Texas’s relentless heat is literally moving the ground beneath people’s feet, as parched grounds shift and cause hundreds of water pipe breaks in cities like Fort Worth. The state’s electrical grid, which plunged millions into frigid darkness after a winter storm in 2021, is scrambling to prevent power outages as demand rises.

And it’s not just the heat. Plumes of wildfire smoke color the sky in the west. In California, the Oak fire has charred more than 18,000 acres near Yosemite National Park in the past week as northern Arizona struggles with a one-two punch of wildfires followed by devastating floods, which have shredded burned-out ponderosa forests.

In the drought-stricken Southwest, thirsty bobcats are even wagon from the desert and into people’s backyards, looking for water.

When the summer rains finally come, they come in the form of record-breaking floods, like those that devoured roads in Yellowstone National Park, or a storm that poured down two months of rain on St. Louis in just six hours. Storms in Missouri this week turned highways into canals and killed at least one person.

Not to mention that lifeguard shortages have closed pools in many cities, the renewed threat of Covid-19 has made hanging out at the mall or the cinema an increasingly risky proposition, and you can’t even ease your misery with a Chocolate Taco.

The most vulnerable are often the elderly, homeless and low-income people who can’t afford the utility bills to cool themselves, or who live in apartments where landlords don’t maintain air conditioning properly. They don’t have a safe quarter this summer.

In San Antonio, as a two-week heatwave — the latest in a series dating back to June — hammered low-income residents into treeless areas of the urban core, several residents fled their sweltering apartments in front of a motel after their air conditioning broke. . Other residents darkened their windows with curtains or wrapped their necks in cool towels.

“You can’t sleep and it’s too hot to be outside,” said Hernan Macias, 52, of San Antonio, who has tried unsuccessfully to cope by placing two industrial fans next to his bed. “It feels like this is the worst summer, the hottest summer yet.”

Still, climate scientists warn that a hot summer like this could seem relatively mild in ten years.

Heat waves in the United States have become hotter, longer, and more frequent in recent decades, from two a year in the 1960s to six a year in the 2010s. analysis of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The annual heat wave season has more than tripled to 68 days, from 22, over the same period. Extremes are extending to many regions ill-equipped to deal with extreme heat, such as the Pacific Northwest, where hundreds of people died in a heat wave last summer. and where temperatures rose again to triple digits this week. Homeowners in the region who once only needed a fan to keep cool are racing to install central air.

“This is a new normal, but don’t get used to it, because normal will get worse and worse until we curb our carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels,” said Kristina Dahl, one of the Union’s key climate scientists. of Concerned Scientists, an interest group.

In Phoenix, America’s hottest major city, popular mountain trails are closed from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on dangerously hot days. The fire department is sending backup firefighters to relieve crews in case they overheat during calls at the height of the day, when temperatures can easily reach 115 degrees.

Across the Valley of the Sun—even the name sounds oppressive on a 110-degree day—many hikers strap on their headlights in the dark, forming a glittering constellation along the sides of Phoenix’s Piestewa Peak.

Indeed, despite the misery and mischief, this abrasive summer still has the power to amaze and surprise.

Maverick once again took off in theaters and Bennifer rekindled a romance. Vodka-infused Shirley Temple cocktails are the drink of the summer. And Joni Mitchell took the stage at the Newport Folk Festival, seven years after suffering a brain aneurysm, to ignore these words:

“Summer, and life is easy…”

Jack Healy reported from Phoenix, and Edgar Sandoval from San Antonio. Reporting contributed by Mike Baker in Seattle, Lauren Hard in Western New York, NJ, Shawn Hubler in Sacramento and David Montgomery in Austin, Texas. Anne Barnard also contributed.

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