Vegas Shatters Historic Heat Record with Scorching 120°F, Sparks Climate Change Concerns

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In the shimmering desert oasis of Las Vegas, where palpable heat is barely newsworthy, an astonishing record was obliterated this past Sunday. At precisely 3:38 p.m. local time, the mercury soared to its zenith— a sweltering 120°F— setting a new and discomforting high at the city’s official airport weather station, as per the National Weather Service’s (NWS) data.

Prior to this highlight, Las Vegas had already sneakily broken its previously recorded heat record when temperatures sizzled at 118°F at 2:33 p.m. on the same day. This escalation in temperature effortlessly bested the previous milestone of 117°F, first recorded on July 19, 2005, and subsequently matched on June 30, 2013; June 20, 2017; and notably, July 10, 2021.

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Anticipations for the day’s trajectory were already tingling as the forecasted high had been no less than 117°F. The ghostly specter of climate change loomed in the background— researchers tentatively pointing out the correlation, labelling Las Vegas as one of the most rapidly warming regions in the west. The average summer temperature has risen by nearly 6°F since 1970, and a quarter-century has passed since Vegas broke a low-temperature record.

Another sweltering record— reported ubiquitously by news outlets— was a scorching 118°F that was a notable part of the city’s history, yet less known for its legitimacy in the official measurements of Las Vegas temperature. This strain of the story takes us back to July 26, 1931, where Charles Pember “Pop” Squires, celebrated publisher of The Las Vegas Age newspaper, recorded this temperature from the comfort— or perhaps discomfort— of his Fremont Street backyard.

As NWS meteorologist Daniel Berc elucidates, this temperature reading— though widely published— lacks the stamp of an official record, being measured by Squires in an unofficial climate site. It was only with the dawn of 1937 that the US Weather Bureau established an official weather station at Nellis Air Force Base, ultimately relocating it to Las Vegas’ civilian airport, Alamo Field, in December 1948.

Despite the records shattered and the sweltering spell looming, Vegas remains undeterred— cooling stations are on standby during the daytime through at least Wednesday. Yet, this severe heat is not to be trifled with, as it houses the notorious danger of heat illnesses, particularly heat exhaustion and heat stroke — conditions which can escalate incredibly fast under such extreme temperatures.

Heat exhaustion, the milder of the two, can cause nausea, cramps, and quickened heart rate as the body’s emergency response to dehydration and skyrocketed body temperature. A dazed state, paleness, and eventual unconsciousness could be telltale signs of this condition and demand immediate action.

Meanwhile, the invasive heat stroke results from the body overheating beyond its maximum tolerance limit, a relatively easy feat in the face of 119°F. The consequent inability of the body’s internal systems to function properly can escalate to organ swelling, nerve impulse failure, and increase the risk of a heart attack. Its symptoms are a lot more harsh manifested in the form of difficulty breathing, seizures, fever, and loss of consciousness.

In the face of these potential dangers, vigilance is the key— keep hydrated, rest often in the shade and, most importantly, reach out for help at the first sign of distress. For the record, heat-related illnesses are the leading weather-related cause of mortality in the US, with 1,714 deaths attributed to heat-related causes in 2022 alone, a startling 740% increase over the previous record in 2004. Thus, in Vegas and beyond, the importance of heat safety cannot be overstated.