The people of Hermosillo are accustomed to the heat: enduring the scorching temperatures is a point of local pride in this northwestern Mexican city known for its scorching climate and nicknamed the « City of the Sun. »
But on a recent Sunday in June, temperatures hit a record high when thermometers registered 49.5 degrees Celsius, or 121 degrees Fahrenheit.
« It was like fireballs were being thrown at me, » said Isabel Rodríguez, a gas station attendant on the road to Hermosillo. At a local fountain in the city, a father used his hat to pour water over his daughter as a respite from the heat.
Scorching temperatures also swept through the rest of the country.
June tends to be a rainy month in Mexico, but this year El Niño, the global climate often linked to intense heat, caused hotter and less rainy days. With temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit, 23 Mexican states were on weather alertsit’s last month. More than 110 people have died of heat-related causes this season.
« It’s very atypical and is due to an anticyclone, » said Dr. Christian Domínguez Sarmiento, researcher at the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate Change at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
This phenomenon, which creates a clockwise air circulation, prevents the formation of clouds and, added Dr. Domínguez Sarmiento, « allows radiation to hit directly, since the sky is completely clear and therefore surface temperatures increase ».
Also at play was the Madden-Julian Oscillation, a cluster of thunderstorms that regularly travels the equator, further impeding cloud formation, explained Dr. Domínguez Sarmiento.
The researcher added that land use also contributed to the increased feeling of heat: ‘If we had a lot more forest cover,’ she said, referring to the urban sprawl, ‘we might feel lower temperatures, but we’re really surrounded by from the asphalt and which also contributes to that uncomfortable feeling.
In Hermosillo, a city of about 936,000 people, that feeling translated into burning eyes, throbbing heads, and dripping sweat.
« Even with an umbrella, » said Luis Grande, a lone student walking the University of Sonora campus, « it felt like my eyes would explode from the heat. »
Yet, in Hermosillo, long accustomed to torrid temperatures, life seemed to go on: the schools remained open and the women accompanied the children to class; football matches still had to be played at noon.
« It hit you, like it was cooking your skin, » María Ángeles López, a housewife, said of the heat. She sat in Madero Park in downtown Hermosillo while her daughter, Aitana, played under a sprinkler.
« I felt desperate because of how unpleasant it was, » she said, adding that her family owned three air-conditioning units at their home, but that she tried to turn them off because electricity bills tended to rise during the hotter months.
Power outages have been reported across Mexico in recent weeks due to high temperatures.
Half of all small grocery stores in the country have been hit by outages and about 15% of these businesses have lost refrigerated products, National Alliance of Small Shopkeepers he told local media.
In Mexico City, the capital, there was a shortage of ice, and some convenience stores rationed ice sales.
The Hermosillo authorities distributed water to the homeless and advised the population to wear hats and loose clothing, to cook less and avoid exposure to the sun. Some families sought solace in the waters of a nearby river, an hour’s drive from Hermosillo.
In Paseo El Molinito, a local recreation spot outside the city, the children splashed around and the parents drank beer. A lazy hammock swayed to the faint rustle of leaves, while accordion music radiated from a loudspeaker. A man in charge of collecting admission fees to the site planned to stay open after usual hours.
The smoke of some small fires has risen along the road that leads from Hermosillo to El Molinito, making an unbearable day even more unpleasant. The Mexican state of Sonora, where Hermosillo is located, has registered 89 fires so far in 2023the highest number in more than two decades, according to the National Forestry Commission.
People in rural Sonora start work at 4 a.m. to avoid the sweltering heat and stop at noon. They break up until 4pm when the weather conditions are manageable again.
And it’s not just humans who can’t stand the heat. Some electronic devices shut down when exposed to high temperatures for too long.
« We still have July, August and September ahead, » said Refugio Estrada, who lives outside Hermosillo. People know that the canícula, the heatwave, hasn’t arrived yet.