30 june 2013

Deadly Heat Wave in the West Brings Fires and Travel Delays

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People seeking refuge from the heat on Sunday went tubing on the Salt River in Arizona, east of Phoenix. The temperature in the city reached 119 degrees. [Joshua Lott for The New York Times. Click to enlarge thumb.]

By FERNANDA SANTOS, The New York Times, June 30, 2013

PHOENIX — An unforgiving heat wave held much of the West in a sweltering embrace over the weekend, tying or breaking temperature records in several cities, grounding flights, sparking forest fires and contributing to deaths.

The Furnace Creek area of Death Valley lived up to its name on Friday; Sunday’s high was expected to be 130 degrees.

An elderly man was found dead on Saturday in a home without air-conditioning in Las Vegas, where the city’s temperature reached 115 degrees, tying the record for the hottest June 29 since 1994. Also, more than 200 people at an outdoor concert there were treated for heat-related problems that day, 34 of them at hospitals, the authorities said.

At trailheads at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, park rangers were trying to dissuade people from hiking the same area where a Boy Scout troop leader died of heat exposure early last month, when temperatures were lower.

At Death Valley National Park in California, whose temperature of 134 degrees a century ago stands as the highest ever recorded in the world, the digital thermometer became a busy tourist attraction over the weekend. The forecast called for a high of around 130 degrees at the park’s Furnace Creek area on Sunday.

Because summer brings the highest rate of deaths among migrants trying to enter the United States illegally through Arizona, the Border Patrol added extra members to its elite search and rescue team. At least seven migrants had been found dead in the desert over the past week.

Monsoons normally bring rain and cooler temperatures to the region in July, but the heat has shown no sign of abating. Several Western states were under heat warnings on Sunday, with most of those expected to remain in effect at least through Tuesday evening. Meteorologists warned of the potential for forest fires in drought-plagued communities in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, as the clouds that build early in the monsoon season often bring lightning and wind but little or no rain.

Lightning had already started four forest fires outside New Mexico’s capital, Santa Fe, on Friday. On Sunday, one of them was still burning.

“We’re really kind of on the edge of our seats now and over the next week or two,” said Todd Shoemake, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

On Saturday, as the temperature reached 119 degrees in Phoenix, making it the city’s fourth hottest day on record, US Airways canceled 18 of its regional flights because the maker of the smaller jets that fly those routes had provided performance statistics only up to temperatures of 118 degrees.

It has been so hot here in Phoenix that tigers at the zoo were served frozen fish treats and elephants were doused with hoses to keep them from overheating. Butterflies were found collapsed on the pavement, felled, apparently, by the temperatures. Mesquite trees, staples of the desert, closed their tiny leaves to protect themselves from the heat.

“This is payback time for those days that we’re happy not to be the ones shoveling snow out there,” Marcus Morrison, 34, said as he stood at a bus stop here on Sunday.

A wispy layer of clouds moved over the city on Friday, trapping the heat. Temperatures here had not dipped under 90 degrees since Thursday morning, and there was no sign of immediate relief in the forecast for Phoenix and elsewhere in the region.

It is only on Friday that the daytime temperatures here and in several other cities are expected to drop below 110.

The heat did not stop tourists from going outside on the Las Vegas Strip, which was thick with pedestrians sweating through tank tops over the weekend. On Saturday, Deanna Harney, who had traveled from Boston, threw her arms up to celebrate the hot weather, saying: “I love it! It’s been raining back home.”

Nearby, Joe Mendoza suffered under a Mario Brothers costume as he posed for pictures with tourists in exchange for tips. “I brought frozen water bottles, and I drink at least one every hour,” Mr. Mendoza said through a large foam head.

Most of the people he sees, he said, “don’t look like they’re having a lot of fun either.”

Heath Haussamen contributed reporting from Las Cruces, N.M., and Lynnette Curtis from Las Vegas.


Records break as heat wave intensifies; 122 in Palm Springs

By Ahn Do, Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2013,

More records broke Saturday as a heat wave kept its grips on California and the West.

According to the National Weather Service, several desert and Inland Empire communities set new records for this day of the year, including Palm Springs (122 degrees), Indio (121) and Riverside (105).

Other record highs for the date were recorded in Lancaster (111), Paso Robles (111), Idyllwild (98) and Camarillo (89), according to the NWS.
The hottest places were in desert areas. Needles set a new record of 120 degrees, according to Accuweather.

Closer to Los Angeles, Granada Hills, Chatsworth, Woodland Hills, Lancaster, Claremont and Santa Clarita recorded triple-digit temperatures Saturday afternoon.

Officials said the extreme heat will continue until at least Tuesday.

"It's early in the heat season. Usually our hottest months are August and September. We're not even in July yet, but this is a massive high pressure system and it's just smothering," said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

On Saturday, the NWS warned that temperatures could rise above 120 degrees in some desert areas. They predicted 100 to 115 degrees in valleys, 100 to 105 in lower mountains and up to 95 in coastal areas.

"We'll set record highs today," NWS meteorologist John Dumas said, noting that Ojai, at 104 degrees, beat its previous record of 103, while San Luis Obispo tied its earlier record of 97.

The minimum temperature in Burbank last night clocked in at 74.

"That's making people most uncomfortable," Dumas said. "Everybody knows they will be hot by day, but when it doesn't drain down at night, it's a lot harder. If you can go to bed and cool off and get a good night's sleep, you can recover. But if you can't, it's a huge challenge to your day."

Phoenix was looking to set a new record, too. As of 3 p.m., it was 119 degrees, according to Accuweather. Las Vegas was at 113 and Death Valley 126.

A slight cooling is to start Monday and last through July 4, although temperatures will still be above normal, Dumas said.

The last significant heat wave in Southern California was in 2009, when the region baked for two weeks.

In Death Valley, July is the month with the most deaths and injuries such as dehydration, according to statistics, said Chris Stachelski, meteorologist from the National Weather Service's Las Vegas branch. Those most likely to get hurt are people who don't realize their limits, wander and become disoriented, he added.

Death Valley is usually about 12 degrees warmer than Las Vegas, with normal highs hovering around 114 degrees.

Stachelski predicted that temperatures there would hit 128 on Saturday and inch up to 129 Sunday and Monday.

"All records," he said. "If you don't have a reason to go there, don't go there. The last time we were there to inspect the equipment, in May, it was only 98."

In Los Angeles, the heat is a particular concern to firefighters because it comes in a year of record dry conditions that have already sparked several major brush fires in the area.

Fireworks also went on sale Friday in some areas, adding another fire danger. Fireworks will be sold in 295 designated communities in the state through the Fourth of July.

Since January, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has responded to about 2,900 fires, department spokesman Daniel Berlant said. In an average year, he said, it would have responded to fewer than 1,800 by this time.

Dry brush is a reason for the increase in fires, Berlant said. Current weather conditions are more typical of late August or early September, he said.

"We're in a long-term drought," climatologist Patzert said. "The situation is extremely crispy and dry. That equals incendiary."

Several agencies opened cooling centers — air-conditioned facilities where the public can escape the heat — in Los Angeles County. For information about the centers, call 211, or view an interactive map of the centers online.

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