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July 20, 2005

Heat wave grips the Southwest

The death toll in Phoenix is up to 18 today after record heat has scorched the city. Eleven of those reported dead were homeless and another two were elderly. Typically those most at risk during heat waves are those who work outside. Interestingly enough, illegal immigrants who die in the heat trying to enter the country are not counted in the official statistics of those killed due to the heat. So far this month, the average high in Phoenix remains of 110 degrees!

Below are the temperatures as of 5:00PM PDT today (20-July-2005).

Today tied the record all-time high in Denver where temperatures reached 105 degrees.

Since Friday it has been over 127 degrees every day in Death Valley, CA, with today reaching 129 degrees. The record high in Death Valley and for the entire U.S. is 134 degrees and the world record set in Libya is 136 degrees. For the record, the hot temperatures in Death Valley are not much more impressive than those in Denver due to difference in elevation. Temperatures typically drop about 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit per 1000 feet you go up in the atmosphere. We call this the environmental lapse rate. However, if you were to lift an air parcel up in the atmosphere without condensing out any moisture or exchanging heat (the dry adiabatic lapse rate), the actual cooling rate would be 5.4 degrees F per 1000 feet. The reason that the environmental lapse rate is slower than the dry adiabatic lapse rate is because heat is added to the air as it cools during ascent if water begins to condense. Death Valley is 240 feet below sea level while Denver is 5,431 feet above sea level, thus giving an elevation difference of 5,671 feet. If you account for the environmental lapse rate, this would provide for a 14.2 degree F difference, or 30.6 degrees by the dry adiabatic lapse rate. Today Death valley was only 24 degrees warmer than Denver, in the middle of the two lapse rates.
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