By Dan Whitcomb and Peter Szekely
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -A baking heatwave that has gripped the U.S. Southwest for three days spread eastward to Iowa and Missouri on Thursday, while punishing the hardest-hit areas with record high temperatures that have strained power systems.
The National Weather Service has issued excessive heat warnings for much of the Southwest, including Arizona, southern Nevada, much of California and southern Utah. Heat advisories were issued for parts of the Central Plains, including Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri.
“It’s a pretty big impact with respect to where the record heat is,” National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Oravec said from the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.
A high-pressure system has been parked for three days over the Southwest, a region used to temperatures of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) between now and September.
“But now the temperatures in the last several days, especially today, are going anywhere from 10 to 20 degrees above average,” Oravec said.
Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday tied its all-time high temperature since record-keeping began in 1894, at 107 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius).
Forecasters say more records could fall on Thursday, where by late-afternoon temperatures could hit 117 degrees (47 degrees Celsius) in Phoenix, and 113 (45 degrees Celsius) in Las Vegas.
DEATH VALLEY HITS 129
California’s Death Valley National Park, typically one of the hottest spots in the world, recorded 129 degrees Fahrenheit (54°C) on Wednesday.
“Up to a certain temperature it’s OK, like maybe 120, but once it gets above that is when it really gets hard,” said Willo Alford, who runs a general store in Death Valley Village and has lived there most of her life.
With air conditioners cranked up in homes and businesses, Texas and California urged consumers to conserve energy during peak times to avoid blackouts.
“The public’s help is essential when extreme weather or other factors beyond our control put undue stress on the electric grid,” said Elliot Mainzer, chief executive of the California ISO, which operates the grid in most of California.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the state’s grid operator, expects Thursday’s demand to break the June record set on Monday.
Both states have previously imposed rotating or controlled outages to prevent more widespread collapses of their power systems – California during a heat wave in August 2020 and Texas during a brutal freeze in February 2021.
The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings across the Southwest to warn of fire dangers and major blazes were burning across the region, although most of them were more than 50% contained as of Thursday afternoon.
“Mother Nature, please bring on a productive monsoon. Be gone: #heat wave #wildfires,” Monica Surfaro of Tuscan, Arizona, wrote on Twitter.
A cold front is expected to bring relief to the midsection of the country on Sunday as temperatures in the Southwest slowly moderate as well.
“The heat wave, at least the record portions of the heat wave, looks like it will be coming to them this weekend,” Oravec said.
(Reporting by Scott DiSavino and Peter Szekely in New York, and Bryan Wood and Dan Whitcomb in California; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Edmund Blair and Marguerita Choy)