Climate Change Left a Devastating Wake in Arizona and Across the U.S. in 2020

Washington, D.C. — Extreme weather and record-breaking storms driven by climate change were unrelenting during 2020, causing billions in damages, burning millions of acres, and killing hundreds, according to a compilation released today by Climate Power.

That devastation was felt throughout Arizona, as Phoenix obliterated its heatwave record with more than 50 days with 110-degree temperatures and a total of 144 days with temperatures higher than 100 degrees.

The data draws a painful picture of the harm of 2020. Arizona confirmed 207 heat-related deaths in Maricopa County alone due to record-breaking temperatures. The driest monsoon season on record also fostered an unprecedented drought, which has affected farmers’ ability to access the water for crops.

According to a statistical analysis done by NCEI scientists, 2020 is very likely to rank among the three-warmest years on record. September 2020 was the hottest September on the globe in 141 years of record keeping. The same is true for November. April and May 2020 both tied previous temperature records.

“Arizona’s deadly heat waves and extreme drought is a grim warning of what will happen if we fail to act boldly to address the climate crisis. The relentless storms, climate fires, and heat hurt Arizona families, with the disproportionate harm forced on frontline communities that have been exposed to legacy pollution and racist climate policies for decades,” said Daniela Campos, a spokesperson for Climate Power 2020. “If we do not act, the heat, fires, and storms of 2020 will be our country’s new normal — the consequences of which will be catastrophic.”

Below is a snapshot of the climate crisis and its toll on Arizona’s communities and across the country this year. You can see a full month-by-month list of climate events from 2020 HERE

  • Severe Droughts — In 2020, Arizona experienced the driest monsoon ever recorded, its driest summer in history, and unprecedented heatwaves. These conditions left the state at high risk for water shortage issues, hindering farmer’s ability to access water for their crops. By September, at least eight counties in Arizona were considered drought disaster areas. By the end of November, 100% of the state was facing drought conditions, with a 39% increase in “exceptional drought” within just one week.
  • Record-breaking Wildfires in Arizona – Almost 995,000 acres burned this year in Arizona, twice as many as the state lost to wildfires in 2019 and 2018. In 2020, the Bush, Tonto, and Bighorn fires secured their spots on the list of top ten largest wildfires in the state’s history.
  • Devastating Western Wildfires – Unprecedented wildfires weren’t unique to Arizona. California experienced its worst wildfire season on record. Nationwide, 9.5 million acres burned and 2020 still has the potential to become the more devastating fire season in our nation’s history.
  • Sci-Fi Red Skies – This year’s wildfires exposed 8 million people to hazardous pollution levels. Air pollution was so thick in places it caused the skies to turn a nightmarish reddish-orange hue inspiring a viral video that paired drone footage of the San Francisco skyline to music from the movie Blade Runner 2049.
  • Arctic On Fire – Wildfires blazed along the Arctic Circle, emitting a record 244 megatonnes of carbon dioxide as carbon-dense peatlands burned in Siberia. On June 20, a Russian town north of the Arctic Circle reached a record high of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, setting a new record for a region not exactly famous for heatwaves.
  • Five Storms At Once – For the first time since 1971, five named storms churned in the Atlantic Basin at one time. Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, and Vicky were each visible in the Atlantic Ocean on September 14th.
  • New England Crop Bake – Across New England, crops suffered widespread losses and 165 community water systems had restrictions in place due to hot and dry conditions. The hot year got an early start when temperatures in Boston, MA soared into the 70s two days in a row on the weekend of January 11-12. In June, Caribou, Maine was one of the hottest places east of the Mississippi River, reaching 96°F.