Phoenix, Arizona, is so hot today that airplanes can’t fly. You heard that correctly: A sweltering high of 120 degrees has grounded nearly 50 American Airlines flights at Sky Harbor International Airport, the company announced in a statement to the Arizona Republic on Tuesday. People stuck in the heat-stricken city will be subjected to some serious punishment, unless they’re holed up in an air-conditioned mall with an ice-blended drink and someone telling them very nice, comforting things.
The carrier’s American Eagle regional flights use Bombardier CRJ aircraft, which can’t operate at temperatures higher than 118 degrees. As it’s expected to crest 120 degrees today, the airline cancelled a series of flights departing between 3pm and 6pm, when the heat is expected to climax. Subsequent flights haven't been cancelled, and normal air traffic is scheduled to resume when temperatures subside to a less-staggering-but-still-incredibly-hot degree.
Not all planes have been grounded due to the seemingly cataclysmic heatwave: Planes with higher operational ranges -- such as larger jets made by Boeing and Airbus -- are able to withstand higher maximum temperatures of 126 and 127 degrees, respectively. It hasn’t been this hot at Sky Harbor International since 1990, when the heat reached 122 degrees on June 26, grinding air traffic to a halt for several hours.
If the heat seems like a safety hazard for anyone working outside on the tarmac, it also massively impedes airplanes from taking off. Hot air is thinner than cooler air, meaning a plane has a harder time reaching the appropriate speed needed for take off when it's this stifling outside. Since it’s more difficult for a plane’s wings to generate lift in thinner air, it puts more strain on an airplane’s engines, creating a very dangerous situation for everyone involved.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, temperatures as high as Tuesday’s have only been recorded 15 times in Arizona since record keeping began in 1896.