The 7 Stages of Heat in the Southwest

Arizona is a land of extremities. After all, we have an environment that is actively trying to kill you. Each year, Phoenicians experience what I like to call, the 7 stages of heat grief. They look a little like this…


February – Stage 1: Shock and Denial


This usually occurs in February. We’ll have a short 4-5 day heat wave come through that will push us into the 90s and we think, “What fresh hell is this?”


Panic sets in. We start checking weather reports and compare the temps to previous years in an effort to predict what our summer will be like.


Some of us will stay indoors, praying to the weather gods to make it stop. Others will deny that it’s really happening – these are usually the eternal optimists who post, “Hang in there” kitten memes on their Facebook timeline.


Some of us will go outside, determined to enjoy the last vestiges of a climate that may never return, while the pessimists growl and mumble to themselves that they can’t do another summer here (but they will, because the weather quickly turns nice again and who can leave when it’s 70 degrees with clear blue skies?)


No matter who you are, you’ll feel shock and denial at this short heat wave.

May – Stage 2: Pain and Guilt


This generally occurs in April or May when the temps are starting to climb into the 90s each day. We usually hit the first (of many) 100 degree day during this time and the news teams all make it their lead story. “Has this ever happened in the past?” Yes, yes it has…


The optimists begin posting, Summer is coming Game of Thrones memes, while the pessimists are posting, “And so it begins…” comments as they check that their air conditioning is working for the third time that month.


But overall, we begin to feel guilty for not enjoying the cool winter days while we had it. Why didn’t I use a sick day to go hiking while the temps were nice? Why didn’t I go out and garden instead of watching Dexter reruns on Netflix?


Inevitably, we’ll begin asking ourselves if it’s our fault for not enjoying the cool temps while we could.


Try not to feel guilty – it’s not your fault. Anyway, the mornings are still nice…

June – Stage 3: Bargaining


June hits and we suddenly remember why we were determined to move last summer. We start bargaining with our Gods – whichever ones we believe is strong enough to control the relentless sun. We make deals with them: “If you’ll just keep the temps below 100 for another week, I promise I’ll never waste a beautiful day binging on Netflix ever again.”


We become determined not to let the last 95-degree day go by without going outside and find ourselves on hiking trails we never planned to explore. We remind everyone we pass that this is likely the last hike of the year.


After we complete that unbearable final hike, reeking of sweat and lightheaded for climbing a mountain in 90-degree weather, we return home and begin preparations for barricading ourselves for the next 3 weeks.


We have remote starts on our cars so it can cool off before we throw on our oven mitts and make a mad dash from the back door to the driveway.



When June 21 arrives, we find a moment of joy. Summer Solstice means that the next day will be shorter by one minute. One full minute of without the sun bearing down on us. Our summer solstice dance is playing a brisk game of the floor is molten lava on the couches with the dogs.


We think it’s fun, but it’s really just practice for the next five months and everyone knows it…


Our facebook timelines begin to look like weather reports and we curse at the news meteorologists on T.V., as if they were the ones controlling the weather.


We know summer is here, but this time, we vow not to let it take us down. We clean out the dust from our homes, reveling in the knowledge that every day from now until December 21, will be one day shorter. We tell everyone we’re going to get through it… After all, we’re survivors.

July – Stage 4: Anger


It’s July and we all find ourselves in a near constant state of rage. Suddenly, open carry gun laws don’t seem like a great idea anymore; especially not when you’re sitting in three hours of traffic because some idiot can’t use a signal. Motorcycles swerve in and out of stopped traffic and it takes everything in you not to open your car door as they blow past you.


It’s just the heat talking. You’re not that person.


Our neighbors spend July 4 blowing up thousands of dollar of fireworks in the street because some idiot governor has legalized fireworks in the hottest, driest area of the nation during peak fire season. A thick layer of smoke chokes out the neighborhood, making it look like something out of a civil war battle. The heat allows nothing to escape its clutches.


There is little hope of relief from our standard monsoon season – those days of cooling thunderstorms rolling through each afternoon at 4:00 are long past. Now there is only thick, abrasive dust. The great walls of deadly dust were once thunderstorms when they begin in California, but not even mother nature can survive this damned heat.



The only good side to the heat is you can now cook dinner in your car while you’re at work.


Dogs lose their tempers faster, snakes are more aggressive, feral cats lie panting on the porches. No one can walk outside without thick shoes and a water bottle. Most of us have started growing fins from being in the pool too long and we wonder what kind of an idiot came up with the idea of wearing clothing.


Even the optimists are pissed off now, and their facebook posts sway into the dark side with “The End is Near” posts, but they mean it in a funny way.


But it’s not – funny.


The pessimists are on facebook screaming, “Burn them all!” like some deranged Targaryen king.

August – Stage 5: Depression


August is here. Damnable August. And Arizona becomes the place Hell visits on holiday.


You haven’t left the house in weeks. Not even at night. What’s the use with lows in the upper 80s? You’ll just sweat, drink more water, pee – none of those things are conducive to a fun night out on the town. You order in pizza and watch the last five seasons of Game of Thrones and Deadliest Catch – you can at least see cold weather even if you can’t experience it.


You continue posting overly dramatic messages on Facebook with screenshots of the temperature that day. “122 and 20 percent humidity. Please come look for me if I don’t post in the next 24 hours because I have probably died from heat exhaustion and I don’t want my dogs to eat my body”.


Your Northern friends laugh and tell you, “Suck it up, buttercup”. They say this is your punishment for posting all those stupid sunsets and golfing photos in January, while they were shoveling snow from their driveway.


Even your fellow Phoenicians turn on you.


“We know what the f^%*ing temperature is! We don’t need to see it on every damned update.”


You’re too sad to delete their cruel comments. Instead, you lie on the tile in the darkest room of your home. The interior is dark as night with the curtains drawn and tinted shade screens. The fan rotates over you, as you live in dread of the next electric bill.


It’s at this time you recall all of the amazing things you did in the winter, that trip you took up to Flagstaff to see the snow. The hike you took in the middle of the day because it was too cold to go out in the early morning.


Alas, those happy days are gone and we’re all doomed, doomed, doomed!


Your dogs lie beside you, panting with their tongues lolling out the side of their mouths. You reach for the water bowl and gently push it in their direction…


September – Stage 6: Cautious Optimism


September hits and there is suddenly a tiny light at the end of the tunnel. Labor day is upon us and that next week, the temp falls below 100 degrees for the first time in months.


We slowly crawl to our T.V. and flip to the weather channel to see if it’s possible to be outdoors without being in danger of simultaneously combusting.


The meteorologists confirm our suspicions: the high will only be in the 100s.


You don’t trust that they’re correct, because they are never correct, but it is hope that the heat won’t last forever. We open ourselves up to a possibility of change.


One morning, late in the month, you let your dogs out in the middle of the day and they can stand on the patio for almost a full minute without burning their paws. This is the time of cautious optimism.


October – Stage 7: Reconstruction and Hope


October hits and we begin to feel hope.


Each evening, you walk outside to feel a slight chill in the air. Has the temperature really dropped below 80 for our low? No, it can’t be.


Excited, you rush back indoors and pull on your yoga pants and t-shirt. The cotton doesn’t stick to your skin. Has anything felt more glorious? Song enters your heart once more.



This is the time of reconstruction. We begin to leave the house in the early morning and one day, in late October, we’re able to leave our shelter in the middle of the day. We emerge from our darkened homes, holding a hand over our eyes and blinking at the sun.


By November, summer will be a distant memory (but you’ll remember each month when you open you’re electric bill because it won’t be paid off until the following March)…