A look at how the desert city of Phoenix copes with summer heat

This summer's punishing heat wave has baked much of the U.S. in sweat-soaked misery.  Records are falling as temperatures soar, and millions of people are left clamoring for relief. 

The country's preeminent desert city has long sweltered through such brutal heat. And there are lessons to be learned from people who live in a city so hot it's named after the mythical bird that was born from flames.  

Here are some of the ways residents in metropolitan Phoenix have learned to adapt to unruly heat.

Air conditioning - a hot commodity

Phoenix backyards are a symphony of humming and whirring beginning in the spring as monster A/C units rattle to life.

Air conditioning is so vital in the desert that cities such as Phoenix, Tempe and Scottsdale have adopted cooling ordinances, which require landlords to keep temperatures in rental homes below a certain threshold.

Units are usually installed on rooftops with the help of cranes. 

"My air conditioner right now is running almost all the time," said longtime Scottsdale resident Naomi Evelan. "And I'm worried because when I have it set on 80, for example, it actually doesn't get beyond 82 ... It's working really hard."

MORE: Phoenix scorches at 110 for 19th straight day, breaking big U.S. city records in global heat wave

Burning hot

If the sidewalk is hot enough to fry an egg, it's certainly hot enough to burn human feet. Last year, the Arizona Burn Center recorded 85 admissions from heat-related burns in the summer months.
Someone can faint from the heat or suffer any other medical emergency and burn themselves on hot asphalt, according to Dr. Geoff Comp, an attending emergency medicine physician.

The damage, including blistering and skin sloughing off, can happen within minutes, Comp says.

How do people avoid the ER? By wearing protective layers of clothing and understanding their own limits outside.

Foam handles protect vulnerable hands from hot metal knobs on exterior doors. Pet owners outfit their furry friends in booties to keep their paws from getting singed.

Getting shady

Arizona sizzles through more than 300 sunny days annually. Beyond slathering on sunscreen, desert dwellers have other ways to keep the UV at bay.

Some install shade screens on their windows at home - solar shades block ultraviolet light and are a booming business around Phoenix.

Car windows are tinted, shade structures tower over grocery store parking spaces, and it's rare to see a playground without a sunshade stretching over it.

There's also natural shade, better known as trees. Electric utility Salt River Project offers its customers free shade trees for their property if they sit through a Zoom course.

Mesquites, palo verdes and the desert willow are among the species that offer quick-growing, sun-thwarting canopies.

Phoenix and Tempe have tree and shade master plans with designs to cover a quarter of their cities in shade. 

Some diehard sun avoiders will wear gloves while driving, with the added benefit of protection from a potentially scalding steering wheel.

Early birds

One of the best ways to avoid the sun is to get up before it rises. Dog parks fill before dawn with panting pets. Runners pound the pavement as cyclists sweep by on the trails in the early morning hours. Golf balls clank off clubs before most people's alarms buzz them awake.

"We rearrange our schedule," said Heather Moos, who has lived in the area for 22 summers, and was heading home from the dog park before 7 a.m. Tuesday. "We're up before the sun comes up. Basically we get to the dog park about 5:00 in the morning."

On the other side of things, some desert hot spots stay open in the dark. The Desert Botanical Garden hosts flashlight nights, when guests can wander the gardens under the stars. Nighthawks soar overhead while scorpions fluoresce under ultraviolet lights. 

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum has similar events that also feature Arizona's nocturnal critters. 

"I guess we have to be vampires in this kind of weather," Moos said.

Finding an oasis

Pools are as much a part of the Phoenix landscape as the saguaro cactus. But in scalding temps, they can turn to bathwater. 

Companies can install cooling systems to chill the waters, but there are simpler methods. Aerators spray water above the pool to keep them cool.

Misters that spritz water to cool diners are a common sight outside restaurants as well. 

Longtime resident Sandy Fam wears a wet towel around her neck to keep cool.

"I've been doing that for years," she said.

But while Fam lives in relative comfort, she worries about those who don't.

"You know, I feel for people who struggle with" paying for air conditioning. They're the ones really suffering, she said.