The heat is on: Data reveals Scottsdale is getting warmer

Scientists have for years been warning citizens of the dangers of global warming. And even though some still dispute the underlying cause of rising temperatures — and their long-term effects — new data appears to be hitting a little too close to home, sparking concern for the City of Scottsdale.

Scottsdale’s average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees over a seven-year period, according to Thomas Munro, a journalist and author of “Local Warming: An Almanac of American Climate Change.” According to Mr. Munro’s calculations, the Scottsdale Airpark weather station in 2017 measured the city’s average high temperature at a level exceeding — by nearly three degrees — the average high temperatures between 1981 and 2010.

global warming

A photo of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in north Scottsdale. Thanks to the preserve and other open space, the average temperatures in north Scottsdale tend to fall a few degrees lower than neighborhoods in south Scottsdale where there are more people, homes, roads and buildings. (Photo by Noelle Schon, special to the Independent)

Scottsdale is getting warmer, but it isn’t alone. While compiling data from the National Climate Data Center for over 100 cities in the United States, Mr. Munro found all but one have seen highs above the 30-year average.

“The warming that you see in (Scottsdale) is harmonious with warming that’s seen all across the nation and all around the globe,” Mr. Munro said. “We’re not just seeing a blip in the weather. We’re seeing some sort of broader climatological change.”

The driving force behind the trend remains up for debate. Mr. Munro — who prefaces his conclusion by saying he is not a scientist or expert — contends the cause is humanity’s contribution to carbon dioxide levels. That contribution, he says, is primarily from fossil fuels that power our lives in a developed country.

“We can see that the CO2 increases are quite perfectly aligned with temperature increases along the globe,” he said.

According to the National Climate Data Center, Arizona saw a spike in temperature in the 1970s when more people moved to the rural state. Anthony Floyd, the City of Scottsdale Green Building program manager, said Arizona’s warming is primarily a result of the “urban heat island” phenomenon.

Asphalt, cars and concrete store heat and radiate (release) it at night, resulting in warmer lows that ultimately affect averages. The more dense the development, the hotter the temperatures — and Scottsdale’s neighborhoods are living proof of this phenomena. Neighborhoods in the north — those surrounded by protected and open land — are generally a few degrees cooler than those neighborhoods downtown.

“It’s five or six degrees cooler in the north part of the city than it is down here,” he said. “Part of it is elevation, but the other part is that there are fewer buildings, fewer streets, fewer sidewalks.”

Dr. Nancy Selover, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning and a state climatologist, said that in addition to the urban heat island effect, warm temperatures are due to Arizona’s current drought and a lack of winter storms as a result of a shift in the jet stream.

Though she said global warming may not be directly affecting Arizona cities, she’s not ruling it out altogether.

“The change in temperature in the oceans and around the earth on the global scale also impact where that jet stream comes,” she said. “So it could be that this warming is what’s causing the jet stream to be further north, and that we are seeing it reflected in warmer temperatures in Scottsdale and Phoenix as well.

“It’s not a simple cut-and-dry issue about how I can attribute these warmer temperatures,” she said. “Everything is in play here.”

But neighboring cities have experienced more drastic temperature increases than Scottsdale. Arizona as a whole has experienced an increase of 4.1 degrees in 2017. But Scottsdale may just have lucked out, according to Mr. Munro.

Additionally, the Scottsdale weather station location has changed since 1981-2010 averages were recorded, which may have impacted readings. Dr. Selover said there is no reason to believe Scottsdale has not experienced warming, but that the NCDC’s unexplained change of location makes for an uneven comparison.

Whether the trend will continue remains unknown. Dr. Selover doesn’t expect temperatures to continue to shoot up without any relief.

“Historically, we’ve had big swings from dry to wet, and I expect wet to come back,” she said. “I’m not sure when that will happen, but we ultimately will end up coming out of this drought.”

She added that while Arizona’s wet weather may not be as cool as before, the pattern goes back 1,200 years.

Mr. Munroe contend that while warming is considered “man-made,” it can also be man-remedied. That remedy is a drastic and quick response to address the causes behind global warming.

Scottsdale is no stranger to green initiatives. In 1998, the city created its Green Building Program, the first office of its kind in the state. The program seeks to protect the environment by preserving large open lands and adopting the International Green Construction Code that requires new commercial and multi-family properties to follow an environmentally-friendly code, Mr. Floyd said.

The city also offers financial assistance to families looking to renovate their homes, with an eye toward incentivizing them to build “green,” according to Mr. Floyd. The grant serves as part of Scottsdale’s mission to raise awareness about environmental initiatives.

Dr. Selover also recommends planting trees to shade the pavement and south- and west-facing sides of the house that draw more sun, which will cut down on the use of air conditioning as well as water. Though a small feat, it all adds up in the equation.

Mr. Munro said that he plans to release a second edition of his book in 2019 to include year’s temperatures, continuing to raise awareness and encourage change.

“That’s why I wrote the book,” he said. “To empower people to understand that their experiences of changing weather are tied to the global phenomenon of climate change, and they are right to be concerned and that they can do something about it.”

Editor’s note: Noelle Schon is a student at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.

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