Maricopa County ties record for heat-associated deaths; many still cases under investigation

Oct 19, 2023, 1:27 PM | Updated: Oct 23, 2023, 8:21 am

Silhouette of a saguaro cactus in front of the Arizona sun. Maricopa County health officials have c...

Maricopa County health officials have confirmed 425 heat-associated deaths through Oct. 14, 2023, matching the record for a year set in 2022. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

PHOENIX – Maricopa County will set a new annual record for heat-associated deaths in 2023, officials announced Thursday.

Health officials have confirmed 425 heat-associated deaths so far this year, matching the record set in 2022.

Another 199 cases remain under investigation, according to the county’s latest weekly heat report, which covers Oct. 8-14.

Through the same time last year, the county had confirmed 359 deaths, with 91 cases under investigation.

“Even with extreme heat like we saw this summer, these deaths are preventable,” Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, Maricopa County Department of Public Health medical director, said in a press release. “This tragic record reminds us that as a community, we have more work to do to prevent these deaths.”

What do trends say about metro Phoenix heat deaths

The number of annual heat-associated deaths in metro Phoenix has risen every year since 2014, according to the 2022 annual report. The county started tracking such deaths in 2006.

Counting such deaths can take months of investigation, including toxicological tests, to determine whether heat was a contributing factor in someone’s death. The deaths Maricopa County tallies include ones that were the direct result of high temperatures, such as heatstroke, as well as ones in which heat was a contributing factor, such as a heart attack provoked by the hot weather.

As a result, it may take several months before all of this year’s cases have been processed.

How long can heat be deadly in Maricopa County?

“Maricopa County residents and visitors should continue to practice heat safety and check on neighbors, even this late in the season, because heat illness and deaths can occur all the way into November due to rising temperatures,” Sunenshine said. “It’s not just extreme heat days that can turn into a tragedy.”

This summer, Phoenix experienced the hottest three months since record-keeping began in 1895, including the hottest July and the second-hottest August. The daily average temperature of 97 degrees in June, July and August passed the previous record of 96.7 set three years ago.

Phoenix also set a record in July with a 31-day streak of highs at or above 110 degrees.

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Maricopa County ties record for heat-associated deaths; many still cases under investigation