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July’s heat broke records worldwide. How bad was it in the Mountain West?

A man runs through section of South Mountain Park at sunrise to avoid the excessive heat in Phoenix.
Matt York
Phoenix, Ariz., made national headlines for its record-setting heat waves in July. The average temperature there was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

News brief: 

July was likely the warmest month worldwide in recorded history, according to several scientific organizations. In much of the Mountain West, heat waves made more extreme by human-caused climate change pushed average temperatures beyond typical levels.

A new report from the nonprofit Climate Central draws on historical data, forecasting models and peer-reviewed research to track global warming’s impact on Earth’s hottest month. It found that more than 80 percent of people experienced unusually high heat waves due to climate change.

In some places, like Phoenix, temperatures were extremely abnormal; in others, they were just a couple of degrees higher than average.

Climate Central researcher Andrew Pershing said even a small shift can make a big difference.

“It doesn't actually take conditions to rise very high before it will stress people who are not healthy,” he said. “If people have not been exposed to these high temperatures, that creates a health risk.”

Experts are warning of a spike in heat-related deaths this year. Emergency rooms in Nevada are reporting record hospitalizations from heat exhaustion or other heat-related illnesses.

Climate Central’s goal is to track how warming temperatures have been made more likely due to increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. It also advocates for mitigating the effects of global warming.

“Those are conditions that we have to prepare for because they're going to keep happening more and more frequently and so that’s where adaptation needs to happen,” Pershing said.

Climate Central’s report found that Las Vegas and Albuquerque were also exceptionally hot in July. Their average temperatures were at least four degrees Fahrenheit above normal.

Salt Lake City, Boise and Reno were about three degrees above average, and Denver was about half a degree warmer. Cheyenne, Wyo., was one of the only cities in the region that actually had a cooler July.

Although heat wavesare surging again elsewhere in the U.S., government forecasts show that much of the Mountain West could see some relief in August.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Will Walkey is currently a reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. Through 2023, Will was WPR's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. He first arrived in Wyoming in 2020, where he covered Teton County for KHOL 89.1 FM in Jackson. His work has aired on NPR and numerous member stations throughout the Rockies, and his story on elk feedgrounds in Western Wyoming won a regional Murrow award in 2021.
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