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Report: Phoenix will see hotter temperatures and longer heat waves in coming decades

It’s hot now, but Phoenix is only going to get hotter over the next 30 years. A new report from the climate research firm, First Street Foundation, projects Maricopa County could see days that reach 125 degrees by the middle of this century.

"We'll look back at this summer, which we all thought was very bad, and think that that was actually one of the best summers that we've had in a really long time, because it's only going to get worse," First Street Foundation CEO Matthew Eby told KJZZ News.

The report's authors write that temperatures will rise nationwide over the next few decades, but Arizona and much of the Southeast and Midwest will see heat indexes that reach dangerous extremes.

Phoenix sees about seven exceptionally hot days per year now, but by 2053, the total could grow to 19 days at those highest temperatures, according to the report. And hot weather will be more likely to come in long waves, Eby said. 

“When we look out into the future, what we’re seeing is that those days are much more likely to happen consecutively," Eby said. "When you have those consecutive days at those temperatures, the impacts are much more pronounced, because you don’t have the cooling temperatures at night; you don’t have the same ability for your body to cool down before the next hot day that might come.”

In addition to creating numerous health risks, long heat waves and extreme temperatures can cause major infrastructure problems.

"With a heat index at that temperature, what you end up with is things like railway tracks buckling," Eby said. "What we need to do is use this data to plan for that, so that we can have infrastructure that is not built for the temperatures of today, but built for the temperatures of tomorrow."

Eby said hotter summers will also increase emissions, since more energy will be needed to keep buildings cool.

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.