This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why it gets so hot in Phoenix, Arizona

One of the most common things that I hear from old-timers who have lived in Phoenix for a long time is that it didn't used to be so hot. That is, back when they were kids in Phoenix the temperature was much lower, nobody really needed air conditioning then, and also that the high temperatures nowadays are caused by the freeways, swimming pools, buildings, that sort of thing.

Yes, Phoenix gets brutally hot in the summer. And I mean so hot that have to be careful touching the steering wheel of your car, what-in-the-world-are-people-doing-living-there? hot. It starts about now (I'm writing this on May 3rd) and the heat is absolutely awful through September.

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Now don't get me wrong, I love living in Phoenix. And like people who have lived here for a long time, I like getting my city back when the snowbirds leave. You can actually feel the traffic lighten up around here in the summer. And in my nice little suburban Glendale neighborhood there is the continuous sound of air conditioners. Yeah, it's even brutally hot at night, which to this day still surprises me. 90 degrees at 3 am. Really.

But since I'm a history adventurer, I wanted to know the real story about why it gets so hot in Phoenix. And the research I've done gives an easy answer, and one that I, uh, try not to talk about in front of old-timers. Phoenix is hot because it's in the Sonoran Desert. And this desert has been that way for about ten thousand years, that is, after the end of last Ice Age.

Do your own research. People have been living in the Sonoran Desert for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Go read about the Pima people, and the Hohokams. They lived in the desert. Look at old letters written by Phoenix pioneers, read old newspapers. The Phoenix area is described as hot, to put it mildly.

I grew up in Minneapolis, and I hated the cold. People who live there say that you just have to wait out the winters, maybe learn some winters sports (which I never did) and it's a beautiful place to live. It's the same with Phoenix, it's just that you have to wait out the summers. If you're lucky enough to have an indoor job, and a car and a house with excellent air conditioning (like I do), it's really not so bad.

No, I won't correct the old-timers who remember their childhood when Phoenix wasn't so hot. And I won't ask them, really, how old they are. Because if they remember a cooler climate in Phoenix, they must be remembering the last Ice Age. I'm sure that it was nice and cool back then!

1910 ad. Note the reference to the 120-degree weather in Phoenix. And no air conditioning yet!