Southwest broils under first heatwave of the year, Death Valley to see 124 or higher
A massive heatwave is baking the American southwest with temperatures across the region spiking above 110 degrees and even 120 degrees in some places, for several days at a time. The dangerous weather increases risk from wildfires and flooding, as well as hazardous air quality and heat-related illnesses.
The American Southwest is baking under the first heatwave of the year. The hottest surface temperature recorded on Earth was 134 degrees in Death Valley on July 10, 1913. The secret to the record heat is that Death Valley is below sea level and temperatures rise as air sinks lower.
LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) -- A high-pressure ridge over Arizona is responsible for baking the American southwest under extreme conditions. From California to New Mexico, temperatures will reach over 110 degrees, and spike over 120 in some places. Las Vegas should see 117 degrees, and Death Valley will reach 124 degrees, or even higher. California's San Joaquin Valley will be between 105 and 110 degrees for much of the week.
Residents of the region are accustomed to heatwaves, and most people have air conditioning in their homes and workplaces. However, the heat still poses dangers that most people never consider.
The Sierra Nevada mountains are packed with snow, much more snow than normal. Waterways are already near capacity, and the heatwave will increase the rate at which snow melts from the mountains. This means rivers and streams will rise, and water will be cold and fast moving. The flood risk remains small, but swimmers who attempt to beat the heat by swimming in local rivers face danger. The cold, fast moving water can cause swimmers to lose their breath, and to become numb and tired. Swimmers can be pulled under by currents in the river or stuck on rocks or debris. The risk of drowning is significant.
While there is a risk of drowning for some, the risk of fire worries others. Already, several small brush fires are burning in California, and when temperatures are hot, brush dries out and ignites easily. The smoke from fires as well as dust and smog contributes to hazardous air. The pollutants make people with asthma more likely to suffer an attack.
The heat itself is also a stressor, and people with heart conditions, or who do not have adequate cooling or hydration are subject to heatstroke and even death.
There are also dangers for pets, livestock and crops. Walking a dog on the pavement is dangerous as the hot ground can burn their bare feet. Leaving pets outdoors can be as much as risk as with people. Farmers need to take measures to keep livestock cool.
The heatwave will last through the end of the week, and possibly into the weekend. Official warnings now extend until Thursday night.
June is a hot month in the American Southwest, but it is not as hot as July and August, which are the hottest. Heat waves, which are described as two or more days of hot temperatures that range above historical averages, are more frequent in July through September.
Officials expect several records will be broken in the week to come.
This article originally appeared in California Catholic Daily and is reprinted with permission.
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