‘It’s brutal’: Las Vegas cooks amid blazing heatwave – and it’s going to get worse
By midnight on Wednesday, two days after a scorching heat wave began to hit the western United States, the air in Las Vegas had barely cooled.
During the course of the day and the following days, temperatures in the desert city hovered close to historic highs, peaking at 46.6 degrees Celsius, setting a new record for such dangerously hot weather so early in the year. Meanwhile, dust and smoke from nearby forest fires hung in the stiff, hot air, throwing a brown haze over the valley.
Crowds of tourists still strolled the scorching sidewalks of the Vegas Strip, and many others lined the mazes of slot machines, restaurants, and shops in air-conditioned casinos. But not everyone can escape inside.
"I'm dying - I feel like I'm going to pass out," said Violet, a woman in a denim thong and crop top.
Violet makes a living out on the Strip, posing for photos with passers-by. She glittered, both from the glitter of the body that covered her arms and chest and from the beads of sweat that gathered on her face in the midday sun. She has heart disease, she said as she leaned against a flower box that she and several other women had kept bottles of water to empty in between selfies. "I'm out here because I have to pay rent, but it's so hot and I get dehydrated so quickly."
Researchers predict this week's heat wave will be the first of several to hit the American Southwest before the end of summer. Driven by the climate crisis and reinforced by the expansive growth of the city, Vegas is already boiling - and it's getting worse.
Las Vegas' population is booming and the city is expanding into the surrounding desert. The extra concrete contributes to the crackling. On hot days, the highways and streets are littered with broken cars - commuter cars, ambulances, vans, and buses that overheat on the way in and out of the city center.
"The climate in Nevada is changing," reports the Nevada government's climate initiative website. “In fact, Nevada residents say they are already seeing these changes and are being affected by them. Climate change has come home. "
The changes are particularly pronounced in Sin City and the surrounding area, which is warming up faster than almost anywhere else in the USA. Not only are heat waves getting hotter, but they are also more frequent. The summer weather is increasingly interfering with spring, and there is less and less room for relaxation.
The increasing intensity has not gone unnoticed by workers who have to brave the dangerous conditions, but "nobody in the valley is allowed to talk," said Jeff, a servant and porter. Fearing retaliation from his employer, an off-strip hotel, he declined to give his last name.
"The pros and cons bring you," he added, explaining that he has to constantly switch between extreme heat and freezing air conditioning for his duties.
“You get in those cars that were sitting outside and it's like 140F. Then the sweat just flows, ”he said. “I've seen guys pass out and start shaking. It's brutal. "
But his job offers him health and life insurance, so he plans to hold on.
Rafael Martinez, who works as a security guard, said he was outside during his eight-hour shift. He saw several people lose consciousness right on the street. “People keep passing out,” he says. "I sweat and feel the heat, but I'm not complaining." He often drinks water, which he said helps a little. He always makes sure to stand in the shade. "If you stand in the sun, you will dry out."
Heat is one of the deadliest weather disasters, according to the federal government, and coroner data shows heat-related deaths on the rise in southern Nevada. Officials have stressed the importance of not letting people or animals in cars and have begun enforcing a new animal cruelty regulation that will target owners who leave pets outside for more than 10 hours a day during a heat warning normally when temperatures rise 105F.
But for workers out there, low-income residents with no access to home refrigeration, and the more than 6,000 unhoused residents of Las Vegas, the stifling conditions can take a significant toll.
"It will surely have an impact on people who can't get cool," said Kristina Dahl, senior climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group. Although heat stress and heat stroke on their own can be fatal, researchers also found that those exposed to high temperatures are more likely to have chronic kidney disease. Hot weather also contributes to air quality problems by trapping harmful pollutants, while the energy consumption of air conditioning systems increases emissions. Studies show that heat affects the brain and slows down cognitive function.
Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, has cooling centers when the heat rises, but many of them close at night even if temperatures don't drop overnight. This problem is ascribed to the cityscape itself.
"We're seeing a more pronounced and more defined increase in the frequency of extreme heat in urban areas," said Dahl. "That's because of a combination of the general warming we are all experiencing except in urban areas, but it's amplified by the use of man-made materials," she added. And it's not just local people who bake it. "As cities continue to develop and there is less natural land cover, it will amplify the warming signal that we are seeing around the world," she said.
Far away from the glitz and glamor of the Strip, new houses seem to be marching row by row into the desert. Despite the increasingly intense conditions, the population is growing. Between 2000 and 2018, the number of inhabitants in the district increased by more than 64%. Officials predict the number will continue to rise and predict that nearly 3.2 million people will call the region their home over the next 40 years - an increase of nearly 40%.
In anticipation of running out of space, a new land ownership law has asked the federal government for more arable land, deducting around 30,000 acres of public land in the surrounding desert.
Meanwhile, construction continues. Housing developments can be seen on the outskirts of town, and even on the hottest days, workers brave the elements to complete them.
"It's hard and it's hot, but if we don't work we don't get any money," said Ignacio Regrelar, who completes drywall work on a development during the 116-degree day. He and his team worked 8 hours through the extreme heat. "The problem is, if the boss says he's ready and you don't, he's going to take other people," he said. “Workers need work. But it is difficult".
Housing expansion has also enveloped areas that were once rural. Las Vegas Livestock, a family-run business that has raised pigs in the area for six generations, was ousted from the city in 2018.
The farm uses food waste from Las Vegas casinos to feed thousands of pigs, and now they are deeper in the desert, sharing the land offered by the local landfill. "Our family has been in Vegas for 50 years, but the city grew up around them, so we're out here now," said farm manager Sarah Staloard. “Hopefully houses won't get that far, but you never know”.
The pigs can handle the heat if they are doused with water on a regular basis, "but I think the question is will we have the people out here safe when it gets hotter," she said. She worries about the rising temperatures and the valley she calls home, especially after spending the day working in the triple digits. There is no energy in the yard.
"If it's still super hot at night, that would be a problem," she said. “We'd have to have someone out here to make sure the pigs don't get too hot. There would be no relief for anyone, ”she added. "Even the equipment never takes a break."
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