The Heat Is So Extreme It's Affecting Air Travel

June 20th 2017

Almie Rose

It's no surprise that it's hot in Phoenix, Arizona, but temperatures are now getting so extreme that it's too hot for planes to fly.


On Monday, temperatures in Phoenix hit 118 degrees Fahrenheit. It's expected to rise to 120 today.

Heat this extreme can actually ground air travel. The Washington Post reports "dozens of flights have been canceled this week at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport."

Why can't planes fly when it's this hot?

It has to do with the engines. As BBC News explains, "at higher temperatures, air has a lower density—it is thinner. That lower air density reduces how much lift is generated on an aircraft's wings—a core principle in aeronautics. That, in turn, means the aircraft's engines need to generate more thrust to get airborne."

Airplanes that are larger are able to generate more thrust, so certain airlines are still operating. Still, this kind of heat is startling. As The Washington Post reports, "only three times in recorded history has the temperature hit 120 degrees or above: twice in 1990 and once in 1995," according to National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Kuhlman.

Kuhlman added, "normally, it’s hot but it’s not intolerable. You get acclimated to your surroundings. You kind of get used to the heat. But when it’s even this far above what the normal is, even for us that live here … it’s dangerous to be doing stuff outside. Anything, I suppose."

Phoenix isn't the only place affected by extreme heat.

As ATTN: reported on Monday, "Nevada, and Southern California are expected to see record-high temperatures in the coming days."

It's so hot the Humane Society is warning pet owners to avoid walking their dogs on concrete.

How to stay safe in extreme heat.

In cases of high temperatures (over 100 degrees), there are precautions you can take. The National Park at Death Valley advises to drink lots of water: "Drink at least one gallon (4 liters) of water per day to replace loss from sweat, more if you are active. Fluid and electroyte levels must be balanced, so have salty foods or 'sports drinks' too."

The park also suggests, ominously, that you "travel prepared to survive," meaning: "stay on paved roads in summer. If your car breaks down, stay with it until help comes. Carry extra drinking water in your car in case of emergency."