As the heat engulfed Tucson, Ariz., on Sunday afternoon, six people, part of a new mutual aid group they call Gator-Aid, were dropping seven-pound bags of Reddy Ice on the hot sidewalks and loading coolers with hundreds of bottles of water and Gatorade.
Every Sunday for the past month, the group has been bringing beverages to downtown Tucson and distributing them to those in need, they said.
“You can see how badly people need it,” one of the volunteers, Hershey Long, 35, said. “It’s great to see that people can have a bit of relief.”
Within 40 minutes, there were only four bottles of water left. A few hours later, volunteers returned with restocked supplies. They found the Tucson Fire Department treating a man with a heat-related illness. Paramedics draped wet towels over him and loaded him into an ambulance.
People across the South and the West have been scrambling to find relief over the past week, a task that could get even more daunting as a new blast of heat threatens to settle over the Southwest over the coming week.
The heat wave, caused by a “heat dome” of high pressure, is now stationed over the desert Southwest. Experts estimate that more than 50 million people across the United States live in the areas expected to have dangerous levels of heat.
A range of excessive heat warnings and heat advisories were in place across the region over the weekend. On Friday, the National Weather Service said that the conditions in Arizona were “rivaling some of the worst heat waves this area has ever seen.”
Those outside an air-conditioned comfort dome had it the worst. On Sunday, a few dozen people gathered in Santa Rita Park near downtown Tucson. Some collected bottled water from the Gator-Aid group; others brought it with them.
Joseph Whittaker, 51, said he was drinking three jugs of water at a nearby soup kitchen every morning.
“I’m dying — I have stage three kidney disease, so I need water more than you,” Mr. Whittaker said.
Mateo Calderón, 59, originally from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, is spending his second summer in Tucson. He pays $200 dollars a month to park in someone’s backyard. He sleeps in his car, or, when it’s too hot, on a row of couch cushions on the ground.
He can go into the house to shower, store food and fill up with water. Mr. Calderón explained how important it is to drink water.
“I used to go to cooling centers, last year, but they’re far,” he said. Now, he chases shade during the day, and just tries to stay hydrated.
Typically, Arizona faces its hottest temperatures in June and July, Gabriel Lojero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Phoenix, said on Sunday, so the timing of this heat is not unusual. But what is a cause for concern, he said, is the longevity of the extreme heat.
So far, the Weather Service has recorded nine consecutive days of temperatures above 110 degrees in Arizona, Mr. Lojero said, and the longest stretch the state has seen of consecutive days over 110 degrees was 18, in 1974.
“Looking at the current forecasts that we have, we’re forecasting temperatures at least 110 or above for at least the next seven to eight days and potentially longer,” Mr. Lojero said, adding that this streak could potentially break the 18-day record.
Isaac Smith, another meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Arizona, said that “we’re going to be looking at these very hot temperatures continuing through the next week.” The Weather Service, he added, expects highs to continue to remain above 110 degrees each day. “That’s pretty significant for us,” Mr. Smith said. “Even for Phoenix standards.”
“People certainly need to be taking precautions to protect themselves from the heat,” Mr. Smith added. “People need to keep in mind that heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the U.S.”
A report released by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health last month found that in 2022 there were 425 heat-associated deaths in the county, up 25 percent from the previous year. More than half of the heat-associated deaths occurred in the month of July, according to the report, and 107 of the deaths occurred on days with an excessive heat warning.
Still, throughout the region, people are finding ways to make do and assessing how much of the heat this year is extraordinary, and how much just feels like summer in the South and the Southwest.
At Heights Mercantile Farmers’ Market in Houston on Sunday, farmers and retailers reflected on the heat so far, and were bracing themselves for the rest of the summer.
Xander Hernandez, 29, a private chef and sales representative for the farmers at Animal Farm in Cat Spring, Texas, said that the extreme heat was killing the farm’s crops such as lettuce, spinach, kale and cabbage.
The lack of water has been tough, Mr. Hernandez said, adding that he had more produce last year.
Drew Blomstrong, 34, who farms about 45 minutes from Houston, said that though the heat was “brutal,” it wasn’t anything he “can’t deal with or handle.”
Still, he said: “It’s almost like spring didn’t even happen. We’ve skipped planting season for some types of produce due to the intense heat.”
Others at the market said they hadn’t noticed much of a difference in their crops. Brian Findeisen, who works full time at Erbe Ranch in Cat Spring Texas, said he hadn’t noticed anything different and hadn’t changed anything on his ranch to adapt to the heat.
“Every year is different. Realistically, in my opinion, I don’t see anything really crazy so far,” said Mr. Findeisen, who said that he guided himself with a family journal, which he uses to note the cycles and droughts that occur every 10 years followed by the rainy season. “The drought years are harder years.”
“We just prepare because we can see what’s going to happen from what we see in years past,” he said. “It’s going to provide, and it’s going to warn you a year before.”
Elsewhere in Houston, people were mostly avoiding being outside after noon or were doing their best to get by when they had to leave home.
One who was out was Mark Morales, 42, an engineering technician, who was walking his 19-year-old schnauzer named Moose through the Heights in Houston Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Morales has moved the morning walk up from 7 a.m. to 6 a.m. And the walks have gotten shorter.
“Instead of long walks, it’s just constant little walks of 15 to 20 minutes with lots of stops,” Mr. Morales said.
But a dog’s got to do what a dog’s got to do, so there they were on Sunday, the streets almost empty, the heat almost 100 degrees, another summer day in Houston.