By Tommy Hough
It may be the first full day of summer, but our current heat wave has already broken records, and none is more impressive, and perhaps more ominous, than the highest temperature ever recorded in San Diego County – 124 degrees in Ocotillo Wells, a milestone even for the desert hamlet between Anza-Borrego and the Salton Sea.
Ever been there? You probably know Ocotillo Wells for being someplace you quickly drive through when you're heading east on Route 78 out of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park towards Highway 86 to get to the Imperial or Coachella valleys, or perhaps you're one of those people that likes to ride dirtbikes and quads out in the desert at Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area.
And while hot temperatures in the desert may not strike you as newsworthy, remember, a 124 degree reading is a full 30 degrees hotter than a 94 degree reading – and no one is going to argue with you if you call a 94 degree day a "hot one." But at 124 degrees, even air traffic is affected, as was the case yesterday at Palm Springs Airport, where it was only (!) 121 degrees.
According to the Palm Springs Desert Sun, American Airlines cancelled seven flights between Phoenix and Palm Springs due to the hot weather. American's regional flights use Bombardier CRJ aircraft, which has a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. Phoenix hit a high of 120 yesterday.
Despite rumors of melting asphalt on runways, the real problem is extreme heat affects a plane's ability to take off. Hot air is less dense than cold air, and the hotter the temperature, the more speed a plane needs to lift off. Hard as it may be to believe, with record heat a runway may not be long enough to allow a plane to achieve the necessary extra speed needed to take off. So be thankful for the thick coastal air we have at Lindbergh Field that our inbound and outbound flights are able to chew into.
Meanwhile, Ocotillo Wells wasn't the only hot spot in the county, as Borrego Springs hit 120. Not to be outdone, Death Valley National Park in Inyo County still won as the hottest locale in the state yesterday, coming in at 127 degrees. Expect more hot summers and record-high temperatures in our deserts, and eventually, points closer to the coast, as global warming continues to extend summers and warm California even further.
Our friend Gary Robbins wrote up more about the heat wave in today's Union-Tribune.
Tommy Hough is a former San Diego broadcast personality, wilderness and parks advocate, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He was the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.